June 23, 2015
Jim Olwell knows a thing or two about pacing yourself. He might not be the racingtype, or even a weekend warrior per se, but Jim’s cycling credentials would leave other carbon-fibered newbies in the dust. For starters, Jim has biked to work for the past 17 years of his 34-year teaching career at De La Salle High School; putting in a mind-boggling number of miles, one can only imagine. Jim has also toured up and down the Pacific Coast on multiple occasions too – going his own pace no less – which means more time to soak in the view! Even in his college days you could have seen Jim riding to class or throughout downtown Davis: one of the nation’s friendliest cycling communities. Jim’s relationship with his bike was a match made in cycling heaven, but what the road didn’t foresee, however, was Jim’s diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2007; a diagnosis that would bring Jim’s cycling days to a brake-screeching halt. In July of 2008, after Jim’s rehabilitation, Jim and his wife, Wendy, went to cheer on their beloved friend, Steve Dakin, at a cancer charity ride in San Jose. This inspiring day would soon pave the way for Jim’s cycling rebound, as well as mentally prepare himself for the bumpy road ahead.
Remission can be a time for unfathomable gratitude, yet staggering uncertainty. Five years had passed since Jim Olwell’s last treatment, and Jim was back to his healthy self again. Like a cycling crusade, Jim was armed with a newfound cause inspiring him to sign up for multiple cancer charity rides throughout Davis and San Jose. Steve Dakin joined Jim in his effort and formed team “Spartan” after De La Salle’s mascot.
It was April of 2014 when Jim signed up for his first Canary Challenge bike ride with his wife, Wendy, fellow friend, Steve, and several other friends from Steve’s work. Training for this was smooth sailing until summer rolled around, and Jim’s pace dramatically shifted. Molehills became lung crushers, and long climbs were completely out of the question. Jim knew there was something wrong. In September, Jim went to his doctor to run several blood tests. For two days, Jim had a nosebleed that just wouldn’t quit. Jim’s wife, who is also a nurse, finally convinced Jim to head to the ER where more tests were given.
It was Jim’s 56th birthday, September 18th 2014, when Jim found out his cancer remission took a huge backpedal; Jim was now battling against chronic lymphocytic leukemia and multiple myeloma. Hopes of completing the 100-mile Canary Challenge Century had dwindled down to a wavering 5k walk. On top of this, Jim’s nurse notified him that his blood transfusion would be set to go the morning of the 27th – the day of the Canary Challenge.
Jim’s family was determined to get him on his bike one way or another. When the nurse gave the news about Jim’s blood transfusion, Wendy took the nurse aside and worked her magic to advance the transfusion to Friday the 26th instead; singlehandedly saving the day that Jim was training for all year. This was thrilling news to hear, even in Jim’s uncertain condition.
On the morning of the Canary Challenge, Jim was shocked when he was presented with yellow “Team Jim” t-shirts, and a tandem bike from a Los Altos bike shop: a collaborative and loving scheme from Wendy and Steve to secure Jim’s wish to ride the Challenge. The generous gesture brought Jim to tears.
When the Canary Challenge began, Steve took the backend of the tandem for the ride, becoming Jim’s workhorse for the whole day. Even Wendy, who would typically never be one to ride for enjoyment, rode along side Jim and Steve in support of her husband. When the three of them crossed the finish line, the Canary team was there to congratulate Jim, and ask him why he rides. Jim’s emotions left him speechless, with nothing but tears flowing from his cheek. To us, that was the best answer we could have gotten.
Here at the Canary Foundation, we are always striving to provide a beacon of hope for those affected by cancer. That is why it brings us great pride when some of our most stoic and unwavering riders let us hear about it. In Jim Olwell’s own words:
“There are many great rides benefitting many great causes. As long as I can ride, I will find a ride that benefits cancer research. I will ride the Canary as long as I can balance on a bike. I do hope to be able to complete the 100-mile someday (though the 8000+ feet of climbing is daunting), though I would rather ride – and finish – with my friends and wife. Then enjoy a meal and beer with them!!”.
We hope so, too, Jim. We hope so, too.