Triathlete McDowell battles back from bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma

July 3, 2012
photo - Triathlete Kevin McDowell Photo by Delly Carr/ITU
Triathlete Kevin McDowell Photo by Delly Carr/ITU 

There were days late last year when Kevin McDowell thought he was fine to train like he usually did, when he was one of the up-and-comers in the USA Triathlon ranks.

Then the effects of the 12 chemotherapy treatments he underwent last year from mid-March to Aug. 22 to battle Hodgkin’s lymphoma would stop him cold.

“At times, it was definitely frustrating and it could be hard,” said McDowell, who will be a sophomore at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs this fall. “I was ready to go mentally, but with my body I had to be careful.”

McDowell didn’t begin 2011 figuring he would end the year struggling through workouts, and trying to not worry about when he might return to his previous form.

McDowell had a 10th-place finish in the International Triathlon Union Pan American Cup at Clermont, Fla., on March 5 last year in his first professional race. There were thoughts that he could be a part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials. He was invited to be part of the Elite Triathlon Academy, in which athletes train at the Olympic Training Center and study at UCCS.

But shortly after the race in Florida, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, which put everything on halt. His treatment would put him flat on his back for a couple of days in bed. During those days, he didn’t eat much and lost weight. As soon as he would start to feel a bit better, another chemotherapy cycle would start.

“When I saw him in June, he was pretty frail,” said Andy Schmitz, the USA Triathlon High Performance general manager. “In September he certainly looked better, but still looked a bit thin and weak – not the Kevin I was used to seeing.”

Still, he was training in September and he wasn’t used the results. Everyone would beat him in practice. Even though doctors said his recovery was ahead of schedule, he wanted to see more rapid improvements.

“I was trying to push, and it wasn’t working,” McDowell said.

Eventually it started to come back. He competed in the Mountain Collegiate Triathlon Conference Championship in March. Then on June 2, McDowell competed in an ITU event in Dallas, and finished fifth. The best part wasn’t just the finish, but knowing that he still had a lot of room to improve.

“That was a huge indicator of where he is,” Schmitz said. “Kevin has to be one of the most positive and passionate people I know, and I thought, if there’s someone that can handle this storm, it’s Kevin.”

McDowell said he knows he still has a long way to go, but he has learned to live with that. He has a chance to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2016 – Schmitz said he thinks McDowell could be a medal contender in four years, too – but for now, he’s just worried about the present and completely regaining his old form.

“I know I’ll be able to get back there, it’ll just take time,” McDowell said. “Patience is a hard lesson to learn.”

Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891

Twitter @GazetteAirForce

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