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Bermuda racer is angel in a Red Dress

As a cardiac nurse at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., Maureen “Moe” McDonough-Roddy’s job is assisting in open-heart surgeries. When she started at the hospital nearly 18 months ago, she wanted to learn more about heart disease and began researching it. What she found out shocked her.

“I learned that heart disease is the number one killer of American women,” says Roddy, who has been a nurse for 23 years. “It takes the lives of almost 500,000 women per year. That’s huge. I figured that if I, a professional, didn’t know about this, how is everyone else supposed to know?”

To help raise awareness about women and heart disease, a topic Roddy has since become passionate about, she signed on to do something other 51-year-old nurses might not — sail the Bermuda One-Two race. Roddy plans to race a J/35 she purchased last November that she named The Red Dress, in honor of the American Heart Association’s symbol for heart disease.

“It’s been a personal dream of mine for years to someday enter this race,” she explains. “If I can do that and help promote awareness and research for cardiac disease in women at the same time, then I’m going to swallow my fear and do it.”

The Bermuda One-Two is a biennial two-part competition first raced in 1979. A lone skipper, in a boat ranging from 22 to 41 feet, departs from Newport and sails solo more than 600 miles to St. George’s, Bermuda. After a brief layover, the sailor is joined by one crewmember and they make the voyage back to Newport together (hence the “One-Two” in the event’s name).

This year’s Bermuda One-Two was scheduled to set off June 3 from Newport. The start of the second leg is scheduled for June 16.

The Bermuda One-Two is organized by the Goat Island Yacht Club and the Newport Yacht Club. The St. George’s Dinghy and Sports Club is the host club in Bermuda. The event annually attracts sailors from around the world.

In preparation, Roddy has been working with her coach, James Thieler, learning the intricacies of her boat, celestial navigation, and weather analysis and prediction. Roddy hopes that with good weather she’ll be able to make each leg of the race in no more than five days.

“She’s pretty fast in good weather,” Roddy says of her boat.

Before beginning her training with Thieler, Roddy had done a fair amount of offshore sailing. She spent four years sailing a 56-foot trimaran between Newport and the Caribbean with a friend. She also helped crew Chad Weiss’ Tripp 60, Serengeti, in last year’s Bermuda Race. They finished 12th in the IMS Cruiser/Racer division.

“We had the best run through the Gulf Stream. It was fast, broad reaching. It was awesome,” she says.

By far, Roddy’s largest obstacle is that she has never single-handed a boat offshore. She admits that, for some people, a sailboat can be a small place when you’re alone on an unpredictable ocean. With no one to turn to during the first leg of the race, Roddy will have to rely on her boat and her mental and physical resources to get her through.

“I’m scared to death to do this,” Roddy says. “I’m not a seasoned, hot-shot racer by any means.

“I’m going to do it anyway, though” she continues. “Sailing alone is a profound experience. The day-to-day things living on shore go away. It’s just you and your boat and your surroundings. It’ll be a challenge but the way I see it, if I can do this, someone can get up off the couch and take a walk and be healthy.”

According to Roddy’s Web site,, heart disease kills more American women per year than the next seven causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer. An estimated 8 million women are living with heart disease today.

And Roddy isn’t the only one excited about her racing for heart disease awareness. Swarovski Crystal is, too. Swarovski is Roddy’s major sponsor and, along with Town and Country, held a fund-raiser in April to benefit Red Dress Racing. Other sponsors include the Newport Shipyard and Harken.

One person who has supported Roddy from the beginning is Dr. Barbara Roberts, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Cardiac Center at the Miriam Hospital.

“I salute Moe’s courage,” Roberts says. “She’s risking her all to help make women aware of heart disease. She’s a very special person.”

Another person who’s impressed with Roddy’s dedication is Kate Ambach, the sailor who will join Roddy for the second leg of the race.

“[Roddy] inspires women to be healthy and active and powerful,” Ambach says on Roddy’s Web site. “I hope I can help her a little in achieving such terrific goals.”

Taking inspiration from a quote she attributes to American astronaut Neil Armstrong, “Take the word ‘impossible’ out of your vocabulary and dream big,” Roddy is excited to get on the water and be making a difference in the lives of women.

“This is going to be a real test,” she says. “The accomplishment of doing something I never thought I could do will be worth it. I hope by doing this I inspire women to take control of their lives, to take control of their diets and not die from this disease.”

For more information about women and heart disease, visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Web site at