By MARIAH SUMMERS
Pamplin Media Group
This Sunday, hundreds of Portland-area residents will take to their bikes and lace up their running shoes to raise money for cancer research at the Portland Livestrong Challenge.
The event put on by the Lance Armstrong Foundation returns to Portland this year after raising millions of dollars here in previous years.
This year's Challenge is expected to attract large crowds of participants to Nike's World Headquarters near Beaverton for four bike rides and a 5K run/walk.
Jimmy Fowkes can't wait. The 15-year-old Lake Oswego cancer survivor has ridden in the past two Challenges and, along with his sister Molly, 11, has raised nearly $100,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation since 2006, when he was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.
Now Jimmy is facing cancer again. But that has not dampened his enthusiasm for Sunday's event, even though it will limit his weekend activities.
Jimmy's cancer first surfaced in January 2006. After several weeks of headaches and vomiting, doctors found the tumor, which they removed with an emergency craniotomy the next day. Jimmy, then just 13, was recovering in Doernbecher Children's Hospital's intensive care unit when he learned that his father, Dan, had signed him up for the 40-mile ride in that year's Portland Livestrong Challenge.
'I'd never ridden a road bike and I didn't even know the differences,' Jimmy said.
He spent eight days in the ICU and worked hard just to be able to walk. Finally, Jimmy's doctor told him he had to walk three laps around the hospital before he could leave. Jimmy did four laps, just in case the doctor wasn't looking and missed one.
After a week of staying home, Jimmy returned to school part time. He started going full time two weeks later, and was determined to keep his life as normal as possible, even through six weeks of radiation treatment and nine rounds of chemotherapy over the next twelve months.
'Jimmy played soccer for Lakeridge (High School) and kept up with all of his classes,' Dan Fowkes said.
'It's not easy carrying five classes and going through chemo,' said Jimmy's mother, Margo.
That year, Jimmy made his best grades ever, one B and the rest A's. He also trained for the 2006 Challenge, and the rigorous 40-mile ride that had seemed so out of reach when he was recovering from his surgery at Doernbecher.
'The Challenge gave me something to work for all through treatment,' Jimmy said. 'It was more than just a bike ride. This goal helped me get back in shape and raise money for other people.'
That's exactly what Jimmy Fowkes did, in a big way. He not only completed the ride, but he also was the top fundraiser at the 2006 Challenge, raising more than $27,000.
'It gave me a boost in my spirits to know that I have all that support.' Jimmy said.
Jimmy's fundraising efforts in 2006 and 2007 earned him a ticket to the Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas, a bike ride for the biggest local Livestrong Challenge fundraisers.
The event also showed Jimmy and his family the power of his story.
'The Challenge has given him a sense of the impact he can make in the world,' Margo said. 'It's shown him what he can do for others. The second year in Austin, a man came up to him with tears in his eyes and told him what an incredible inspiration he is. He never thought of the positive impact sharing his story with others could have.'
'I don't think I understood what a difference all this could make until Jimmy gave his speech at the first Livestrong event and people would come up to us while we were riding and tell us that they were so moved by this 13-year-old boy,' Dan said.
His participation in the Livestrong Challenges also gave Jimmy the opportunity to meet Lance Armstrong, who has become his idol and his friend.
Jimmy met Lance Armstrong for the first time at a 24 Hour Fitness event in 2006.
'I didn't know what to say,' Jimmy remembered. 'It meant so much and he's such a normal guy. I was so happy.'
Two years later, and after many subsequent meetings with Armstrong, the walls of the Fowkes' home are lined with signed photos and jerseys from Lance. In one frame, a slightly wrinkled race number hangs next to a picture of Jimmy and Lance at the 2006 Challenge.
'This one is really special to me,' Jimmy said as he looked at the framed race number. 'When I met Lance for the second time at the Challenge in 2006, I was eating after the race and a person came up to me and handed me this. They said, 'Lance wanted you to have this.' It was his number from the ride. I couldn't believe it.'
Another frame holds an autographed jersey from Lance given to Jimmy for winning the Messenger Award in 2007 by having the most fundraising donors - he had more than 250.
When he received the award at a pasta dinner for the top fundraisers, Jimmy called his sister to the stage.
'Going through cancer treatment was tough, but being the sibling of someone going through cancer treatment is hard too,' Jimmy told the crowd. 'During the past year, most of the attention has been on me. But throughout it all, Molly never complained. She tried to cheer me up when I was sad, she supported me no matter what, and she was with me every step of the way.'
After Jimmy's speech, Doug Ulman, president of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, took the podium, visibly moved. Jimmy, he told the crowd, is the reason the foundation does the Challenge. He epitomizes what it truly means to live strong.
In February, after nearly a year of clear scans, Jimmy's doctors found small, cancerous legions in his brain. He is now on a five-month high-dose chemo regimen. In July, he will receive one round of very high-dose induction chemotherapy and a stem cell infusion, which doctors hope will cure him.
Still, Jimmy is staying positive.
'I don't ever want to feel sorry for myself, and there are two reasons for that,' Jimmy said. 'One, it only makes it worse because you focus on the pain. And two, it doesn't help you at all, it doesn't get you anything.'
'He is absolutely convinced that he is going to beat this,' Dan said.
These days, Jimmy is focusing hard on Sunday's Challenge and reaching his goal of raising $45,000 for cancer research. Though he is unable to ride this year because of his chemotherapy, Jimmy will still participate in the 5K run/walk with his mother.
Molly Fowkes couldn't be more proud of her older brother. She considers him her hero and admires how much the Challenge has changed his life.
'He looks at the world different now, he's more grown up,' Molly said. 'It's made him stronger.'
Molly said she's most looking forward to the pasta dinner at this year's Challenge, and to be able to give a speech with her brother if they win the top fundraiser award.
At presstime, they were in the lead by about $15,000.
For more information on Jimmy Fowkes and his family and to donate, visit http://portland08.livestrong.org/jimmy .
For details about the 2008 Portland Livestrong Challenge, visit www.livestrongchallenge.org