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Ride of a Lifetime

Lakeridge student Jimmy Fowkes sets his sights on a 70-mile ride to raise money for cancer research and a visit with his hero
by: Submitted Photo, Lance Armstrong, Jimmy Fowkes and Jake Gyllenhaal pose at the 2006 Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas. Armstrong, who lives in Austin, hosts the event each year. Fowkes was invited to participate after he raised $30,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

The last time Lake Oswego's Jimmy Fowkes appeared in the Review, he was regaining his health and strength after multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgery to remove a golf ball-sized tumor from his brain.

Still noticeably thin and missing his hair, he was also preparing to ride an astonishing 40 miles in the Portland Livestrong Challenge with his dad, Dan, and family friend Morry Fealy.

That was June 2006. And it's safe to say that Jimmy's life has taken a somewhat surreal - and positive - turn since then.

'My vision in life is clear,' Jimmy said. 'It's like going from a blurry lens to a clear lens. You appreciate every moment and focus on the positive stuff.'

The Fowkes completed the Livestrong ride and raised a whopping $31,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation through relative and friend donations. The amount was almost $10,000 above his original goal, making it the highest amount raised by a Portland participant.

Jimmy received the top fund-raiser award and gave a speech at the pasta dinner the night before the ride. He spoke again when he received the 'Livestrong Challenge Award.'

'I wouldn't trade the last seven months for anything because of how cancer has shaped me as a person,' Jimmy told the crowd. 'Cancer has also inspired me to help other people.'

Jimmy's efforts earned him an invitation to the annual Ride for the Roses, held in Austin, Texas, as well as a spot in a private ride with Armstrong and about 20 other major fund-raisers.

Meanwhile, Jimmy met Armstrong at the opening of the 24-Hour Fitness in Tualatin. Armstrong took time to sign Jimmy's jersey and posters. The two cancer survivors have been buddies ever since. Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner, even e-mailed Jimmy on the one-year anniversary of his diagnosis.

'He's always remembered me, every time I talk to him,' Jimmy said.

In October, the Fowkes family flew to Austin so Jimmy and Dan could participate in the Ride for the Roses. Jimmy's mom, Margo, and sister, Molly, were their support team. The eight-mile private ride, which included actor Jake Gyllenhaal, was held in the countryside outside Austin. At a barbecue held in conjunction with the ride, Armstrong approached the Fowkes and invited them to his house.

'He gave us a tour and showed us all of his Tour de France cups he won,' Jimmy said. 'We went out to his backyard and threw the football. Jake was there and we talked for awhile.'

'He didn't feel like a celebrity,' Molly said of Armstrong. 'He felt like a normal guy.'

Now, Jimmy wants to secure his spot in this year's private ride. To do so, he must raise at least $30,000 in time for the Portland Livestrong Challenge, set for Sept. 30.

But this year, Jimmy has bigger plans. With the help of people across the country and a widespread e-mail network, he hopes to raise $50,000. He's already raised around $22,000.

'So many people raise the money ... with events like dinners and golf tournaments,' Margo explained. 'Jimmy's one-on-one approach is different.'

Alongside Dan, Jimmy also plans to ride 70 miles on his new Trek road bike. It's a small feat compared to foundation's cancer research effort and its ability to connect those with cancer, he explained.

'My real fight ... is just beginning. I am committed to 'paying it forward' and giving back to others who are fighting cancer just like I am,' Jimmy wrote on his Web site.

Margo and Molly will complete the 40 mile course. Molly, a 5th grader at Hallinan Elementary, is also in on the fund-raising effort. She penned an e-mail to her friends encouraging them to give to Jimmy's cause. It's her way of getting involved after feeling powerless during her brother's illness, Margo said.

'I really wanted to do it with him this year because I knew we could raise money together and I thought it was important,' Molly said.

Jimmy is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School and is growing up fast, as teen-age boys do. He has his wavy brown hair back and put on some weight in time for soccer season.

Although the tumor is gone, cancer continues to affect his life. Jimmy must undergo a MRI brain scan procedure every three months. Eventually, if all goes well, he'll have every six months and then one exam annually.

Each clear scan raises Jimmy's rate of life-long survival.

'There's still a part of me that worries,' Jimmy said. 'You can't control (cancer). It makes you realize how you're not invincible and stuff can just happen to you.'

To donate to the Lance Armstrong Foundation through Jimmy Fowkes' fund-raiser, visit http://portland07.livestrong.org/jimmy