Ask anyone who’s taken on the grueling series of events that make up an Ironman competition–a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run–and they might tell you that when it comes to mentally preparing for this kind of challenge, sometimes it’s easier not to think about what you’re in for.
Not Jamie Twedt. For Jamie, who completed her first Ironman in 2014, knowledge is power, and taking action is a way of life.
These qualities have guided her through more than a few tough races, but it was a personal decision involving her own health that truly tested her commitment to knowledge at all costs. That’s because along with her determination, optimism, and that mysterious combination of genes that compels a person to take on such a challenge, Jamie’s family history suggested she may have another, much more serious addition to her genetic makeup – a BRCA gene mutation.
A Tough Decision
Her sister and mother had it, and both had been diagnosed with cancer – first her mother with breast cancer, and then her sister, Dawn, with ovarian cancer. Finding out if she carried a BRCA gene mutation, which increases a woman’s risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer, was more frightening than any athletic competition. And once she found out, if she tested positive, she would be faced with an even greater decision. What to do with this information?
It took her sister, Dawn, being diagnosed with ovarian cancer a second time to finally convince Jamie to undergo genetic testing. “I didn’t know what I would do with the information and quite frankly I was afraid to take the test,” she says, but “I told myself I was crazy for not taking the test to find out the results and take control of my life.”
She took the test in October 2013, and the next month, found out she was BRCA1 positive. Once she knew, the decision was clear. Her first proactive surgery, a hysterectomy, took place in January 2014. After that, a “break” to train for her first Ironman in August 2014, and then a second proactive surgery, a double mastectomy, in November 2014.
Two major surgeries and a foray into what is widely considered to be one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world, all in one year, is a lot. To get through it, Jamie looked to Dawn.
“My motivation is my hero and sister Dawn Twedt. I’m healthy and blessed that I can do this amazing sport that I love in honor of her, and raise money at the same time,” Jamie says. “Dawn has never once had a ‘poor me’ attitude…so I certainly can’t say ‘poor me, I’ve got a 100-mile ride today.’”
While training for that first Ironman in 2014, Jamie set her sights on another goal – to reach as many people as possible and teach them about ovarian cancer. On her fundraising page, she describes the sometimes quiet symptoms of ovarian cancer. Those who have met her can attest that she’s “a champion of making sure women also understand how the BRCA gene mutation ties into your increased odds of getting ovarian cancer. I’m always happy to share my fear of taking my BRCA test and learning my results were positive with women.”
It’s working. Since she began her awareness efforts, several women in her circle have taken Jamie’s words to heart, investigating their risk further when symptoms or a high-risk family history may have otherwise been ignored.
Making an Impact
As much about raising funds for research as educating women, Jamie’s self-propelled campaign has generated nearly $30,000 for OCRF, thanks to her creativity, a receptive and generous community, and her philosophy that, “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.” Her company, Pulte Mortgage, has thrown its support behind her campaign, making a large single donation and matching employee contributions toward her efforts. To keep things exciting, she offers prizes for donors, puts together goodie bags, and organizes benefits where guests bid on silent auction items and enter raffles, all in the name of ovarian cancer research. Of her supporters, she says, “I’m truly blessed with amazing people in my life who want to support this cause and know it’s very near and dear to my heart.”
While many people might look at a $30,000 impact and hang up their wetsuits, calling it a successful campaign, Jamie has no intention of stopping any time soon. “My ultimate goal is to keep raising money until a cure is found,” she says.
As for the Ironman, her dream is to get a lottery slot, or have a random stranger bid to win one of two ebay slots auctioned every year for entry into Kona, the site of the Ironman World Championship. There, she plans “to dress head to toe in a race kit with OCRF on it, to bring awareness to this cancer.”
But first, Ironman Boulder for a third time on August 7th. She’ll have her last surgery in February, after which she’ll get right back to training for the summer competition, where she’ll have her biggest support crew yet. In addition to her steadfast crew of her mom, dad, and her sister – her hero – Dawn, two sets of aunts and uncles will be joining her at the race in August. And excitingly, her two sons, whose busy hockey schedules have so far kept them from seeing their mom compete, will be there to cheer her on in person.
Of her sister, Dawn has this to say: “It’s hard to put into words what I think of Jamie’s efforts. I’m astounded regularly regarding what she’s capable of.”
Together, Jamie and Dawn continue to inspire in their mission to fight ovarian cancer from all angles.
Says Dawn, “What I would like people to take away from my story, and Jamie can tell you I say this often, is that Knowledge is Power. By working together to spread awareness, advance research, and getting women to listen to their bodies we can truly make a difference in the fight against this disease. I would love it if someday women didn’t have to fear hearing they have ovarian cancer.”
To read more from Jamie and support her campaign, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/IronmanBoulder2016/fundraiser/jamietwedt.