We’ve been connected to the Lance Armstrong Foundation since Barry’s first diagnosis of cancer in 2005.  Barry ran the 5K at the Livestrong Challenge in Portland in July 2006, and we both did the Challenge in September 2007.  There was never any doubt we would do the Portland Livestrong Challenge in June of 2008. 

 

When we learned last February that Barry’s cancer had returned after scans were clear for over a year, we knew the upcoming Livestrong Challenge would be more meaningful than ever.  Our team eventually grew from two members to nine, including our family, Barry’s brother and his family, and two friends.  The commitment and connection to Livestrong 2008 kept growing.

 

One day when I was checking our team statistics and cruising around on the Livestrong website, I noticed “Livestrong Award” on a sidebar.  I clicked on it and began reading.  The more I read, the more I realized it described Barry. 

 

At each of the four Livestrong Challenges across the country each year, one Livestrong Award is presented to an individual who displays resilience, inspiration, public awareness, and commitment in the fight against cancer.  I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Barry met all the criteria for the award, and then some. 

 

By this time it was late May.  Barry was recovering from a lung biopsy, we both had a lot of teaching to finish up with our second graders, report cards needed to be done, and the school year had to get wrapped up.  Even though it was an extremely busy and stressful time, I knew I had to write the four essays needed for the nomination. 

 

On the nomination form there’s a spot that asks if the nominee is aware of the nomination.  I decided not to tell Barry in case he didn’t receive the award.   So I worked on the essays at school, before and after my teaching day.  I wrote, edited, rewrote, edited, and then revised some more.  Finally, my writing was finished, and I sent off the nomination.  I took a deep breath and smiled.

 

Within the next few days I ran into Camille Rimmer while dropping my son off at the school they share.  I mentioned to her about nominating Barry and she rattled off several amazing sentences about him.  So I asked her to send in a nomination as well.  Then I thought of Mary Riehl, a friend who has been very supportive of us and Barry taught both her daughters.  I asked her to send in a nomination too, and she did.

 

So then I waited.  Nominations were due on June 16th and the Livestrong website indicated nominators and nominees would be notified by the end of the day on June 20th, which was a Friday.  So Friday came and went.  Saturday came and went, and Sunday came and went.  By then I figured Barry didn’t receive the award.  On Monday morning I checked my work

e-mail, and sure enough, there was the message I had been hoping for: 

 

“We’ve selected Barry as this year’s recipient of our Livestrong Challenge Award.”

 

Barry had gone out to get the newspaper.  I printed the e-mail and walked down the driveway smiling.  He looked at me and said, “What?”  I replied, “I have something for you to read.”  My heart was pounding as I watched him read the e-mail.  He looked at me with an expression of amazement.  I then filled him in on the process and the realization started to sink in for both of us.  Barry would receive the Livestrong Award from Lance Armstrong in Portland   Wow!

 

Of course Barry didn’t think he was deserving.  I told him that yes, he was.  I let him read the nominations I’d written about him, and the reality sank in even more.  I called Camille and Mary with the good news, as well as Barry’s parents and other family members.  I’ll never forget those feelings of joy and excitement in the midst of our amazing journey with Barry’s cancer.

 

The Livestrong Challenge was the following Sunday.  In the next few days we exchanged several e-mails with two of the Livestrong Team members involved with the award process.  They both expressed congratulations and said all the team members were really looking forward to meeting us.

 

So our Livestrong 2008 experience continued in Portland

 

We arrived in Portland Saturday afternoon, hooked up with Barry’s family, and picked up our registration packets at the Livestrong Village on the Nike Campus.  The feeling at the Livestrong events really is amazing.  There’s an ambiance of excitement, fun and connectedness since we’re all there for the same cause. 

 

Barry and I got to attend the Livestrong banquet that evening.  While we were looking around for a place to sit, a very nice woman said we were welcome to join her group.  She then introduced herself and the seven others on her team.  It turned out they were the leaders of the Livestrong Portland Volunteers, including the manager of technology, medical staff, PR, power stops, etc…  Since there were over 650 Portland volunteers, this was quite a group of leaders.  They were also excited to learn they had invited the Livestrong Challenge Award winner to sit with them.  It truly was quite a coincidence, and we had great conversations over dinner.

 

The banquet was fun and inspiring.  Awards were given to the top fund-raising team and individual, who happened to be a 15-year old boy battling brain cancer.  Lance was there, spoke to the group, and answered a bunch of questions, including many about the upcoming Presidential election and which candidate would likely do a better job of supporting the fight against cancer.  A Foundation summit will be held in July which will help determine the answer.  Another question for Lance:   “How many bikes do you own?”  Answer (laughing):  “I have no idea.  Lots.” 

 

Then we got to visit with Doug Uhlman, President of the Livestrong Foundation.  He was standing right by us as the banquet was breaking up, so I introduced myself.  I started to introduce Barry and he exclaimed, “You must be Barry James.  I know all about you!”  He proceeded to tell us the Livestrong Team from Austin had been talking about Barry all week, and he’d even read the Yakima Herald article that morning.  Apparently he gets all articles every morning that have the word “Livestrong” in the title.  (For those of you who don’t get the Herald, Barry was featured in the paper on Saturday the 28th including a great shot of he and Aaron on their bikes.)   Doug even said their team has “plans” for Barry in the future with activities in the Northwest.  We’ll find out more about that later. 

 

So the actual Livestrong Challenge came early Sunday morning.  Our team “Thriving” had a great time, even though it was sunny and very hot (in contrast to the 50 degree rain Barry and I had last year).  Barry, Aaron, Sue Kegley (a Yakima teaching friend), and Rena Brady (Sue’s sister) did the 10-mile bike ride, while Barry’s brother Brad, sister-in-law Audrey, and nieces Kayley (10), and Alyssa (7) from the San Francisco area, and I all did the 5K run/walk.  Barry’s parents Lee and Carolyn, my brother Andy, and my cousin Laurie, were on deck cheering us on and taking pictures.  There were over 3,000 participants, and the event raised a million dollars for the fight against cancer.  Wow! 

 

Then there was the post-event party…  A large crowd gathered and Doug Uhlman delivered Barry’s introduction while Lance was standing right there holding his Livestrong Challenge Award.  Barry came up on stage to an amazing round of applause, shook Lance’s hand, and then immediately had to stand for the official photographer. 

 

So, Barry hates having his picture taken and even mentioned this to Lance quietly as they were standing there, arm in arm, posing.  Lance smiled and said he does too.  None-the-less, Barry gave a very nice acceptance speech while the crowd hung on every word.  He thanked me for nominating him and talked about how cancer has impacted his life, in some ways positive:  helping realize the importance of faith, family, and friends; finding an inner strength; and living each day. 

 

Barry also thanked the Lance Armstrong Foundation for the support he’s received over the last three years.  He concluded by saying he definitely plans on being there at Livestrong 2009, which caused many loud cheers, whistles, and applause.  He and Lance shook hands again and exchanged a few more pleasant words before Barry left the stage. 

 

Lance then spoke for a bit and commented on how it’s always difficult to follow someone like Barry who is so inspiring.  I have no doubt Barry made his mark, and that Lance and others on the Livestrong Team will remember and look for him at Challenges in the future.

 

Then we all traveled home in different directions.  As Barry, Aaron, and I turned onto our street we noticed a huge orange poster on our garage door.  As we got closer we read:  “Congratulations Barry!” with messages written from all the families in our neighborhood.  “Congrats Barry” was also written in chalk across our driveway.  Talk about a wonderful, heart-warming home-coming and yet another example of support…

 

So I’ve tried to accurately describe the events of Livestrong 2008, but there’s no way to completely convey the emotion.  Our journey is…   for lack of a better word I’ll simply say:  amazing.

 

Livestrong!