As a six-year-old, Jamie Whitmore would sit in front of the TV during the Olympics and dream that one day she would be that athlete standing on the top of the podium while the American flag was being raised and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was being played.
She never imagined that at the age of 40, her childhood dream would actually become a reality.
Whitmore swam as a youngster, moved into cross country and track through high school, ran at Cal State Northridge and then, after college, happened to be watching an interview with professional triathlete Barb Lindquist on TV. “I turned to my dad and told him ‘that’s what I want to do,’” she recalls.
She raced some road triathlons, moved into racing mountain bikes, and then discovered the sport of off-road triathlon in 2002. During her Hall of Fame XTERRA career, Jamie won 37 titles on the XTERRA circuit, six US National titles, and the 2004 XTERRA World Championship title.
It was during the 2007 XTERRA World Championship race in Maui that Jamie realized something was wrong. Both legs were cramping throughout the race and she ended up sixth. “That night I had some weird tingling in my legs,” she remembers.
Whitmore took a full month off from training, but her hamstring was still incredibly tight.
The first doctor she saw, in January of 2008, told her it was bursitis. By the end of the month, the pain was so bad she couldn’t fall asleep at all. Each doctor she went to had a different diagnosis. One said she had a ruptured disc, while another said it was an ovarian cyst.
Finally, she found out the truth.
“Two doctors came into the hospital room,” she says. “One doctor goes, ‘if you have to have chemotherapy, this is what is going to happen.’ The other doctor goes ‘if you have to have radiation, this is what is going to happen.’ I was fighting back tears. Up until that point no one had told me that I had cancer. Now I had to ask a question that I did not want the answer to. ‘Do I have cancer?’ I asked. One doctor goes ‘I have to see another patient,’ and walks out. I just lost it. Then I turned to my dad and said ‘I don’t want to die.’”
The surgery was on March 28th for spindle cell sarcoma. The tumor was growing out of her sciatic nerve and through her pelvis. Whitmore ended up having 26 days of radiation and three surgeries, plus she knew her career as a professional triathlete was over. “I had to learn how to walk again,” she recalls. “I was told that I’d never run again or ride a bike outdoors. It was a very dark time.”
She had a second surgery when the cancer returned and then they found that she had sepsis. Her temperature soared to 104 degrees and if she had waited one more day before going back to the hospital, there is a good chance she would not have lived. Her third surgery involved moving one of her kidneys to the other side of her body since it couldn’t drain correctly where it was.
After she returned home, she spent most of her time on the couch vomiting, which led to another trip to the hospital. But this time the diagnosis was a happy one. Jamie Whitmore was pregnant…..with twins!
A year after her twin boys were born, Whitmore got back on the bike. After being off the bike for three years and being told she would never ride again, she went to the Para-cycling World Championships and won two gold medals, one in the time trial and one in the road race.
Her first time on the velodrome to race the 3,000 pursuit? She won.
On July 3, 2016 she was named to the US Paralympic Para-cycling Team and went to Rio to race the time trial, the road race, and the 3000 pursuit on the track.
She took home a silver medal in the 3000 individual pursuit and finished seventh in the time trial.
That left the road race. A pack of 14 stayed together for most of the flat and windy race and Whitmore was trying to figure out when to make a move. “I attacked on the hill going into the last lap to try and break up the pack,” she remembers. She split the group and eventually it came down to the last 500 yards with Jamie and two other women still in the hunt for gold.
When she saw the 200 meters to go sign, Whitmore exploded out of the saddle and gapped the other two. “I knew I had the gold,” she said.
The next thing she knew, just like in her dreams starting when she was six years old, Jamie Whitmore was standing on the top of the podium while the flag was being raised and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was being played. “While I was standing there, I saw myself as that six-year-old kid,” she insists. “Now I’m 40 years old and even though I’ve had all of these detours along the way, there is no better feeling in the world than having my family there as the American flag is being raised in my honor. I can’t believe it. It’s crazy.”
Believe it, Jamie. Sometimes even the most outrageous dreams do come true.
LISTEN to a recent interview with Jamie on Babbittville Radio here
Here’s a profile of Jamie from The Challenged Athletes Foundation