Family cycles through grief
Armstrong's example inspires healing journey
October 5, 2005
Steamboat Springs — The last big road bike ride of Jim O’Hare’s life was a year ago during the Skinny Tire Festival Century Tour in Moab, Utah.
Last month, O’Hare’s widow, Carol, and his eldest son, Jay, both of Steamboat Springs, closed the loop.
Carol O’Hare, a cancer survivor, and Jay shipped their bikes to the Portland suburb of Beaverton, Ore., in September to take part in the LIVESTRONG Ride sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. They were among 3,500 cyclists who helped raise $1.3 million to support the LAF’s mission of empowering people affected by cancer, through advocacy, education and research.
Carol, who enjoyed long cycling tours with her husband, completed the 70-mile ride, as did Armstrong. Jay, a veteran of numerous triathlons, completed the 100-mile ride.
But the weekend was about much more than pedaling to raise money.
Jim, who had built a legal practice in Nashville, Tenn., before moving to Steamboat, died Dec. 16, 2004, just weeks after that century ride in Moab. That ride also was a benefit for LAF.
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“He was your typical Steam–boat active person,” Jay said about his father. “He liked to mountain bike, snowboard and ski. He was a Rotary member and served on the board of Strings in the Mountains. And he was building a company called O’Hare Investment Management. It had a lot of potential. His death was totally out of the blue.”
Carol and Jim had traveled to the island of Kauai in November 2004 when Jim experienced an aggravating cough. Doctors in Hawaii suspected lung cancer, and the O’Hares quickly flew to Nashville, where the disease was confirmed. Although he had never been a smoker, he had small-cell lung cancer. Jim O’Hare was just beginning treatment when he died of a pulmonary embolism.
The suddenness of Jim’s death stunned his family.
But last month’s LIVEST–RONG Ride outside Portland helped the family take a large step in the grieving process and gain a measure of peace.
Carol learned about the ride in July while watching the Tour de France. She seized the opportunity to share a goal and a purpose with Jay — a goal and purpose that meshed with Jim’s passion for cycling and the disease that has affected the family so greatly.
“To me, all of a sudden, it just clicked,” Carol recalled. “I said, ‘I can do this,’ and the enthusiasm was there.”
Jay had moved to Steamboat during the spring preceding his father’s death to work with him in his company. He also has a database marketing company and used his expertise to seek pledges for LAF. Together, he and his mother raised $5,450.
“What a great way to channel a lot of our energy and do something that contributes in this way,” Jay said. “LAF is a great resource to turn to when you get the news (that a loved one has cancer). We saw the value in this.”
The O’Hares trained diligently for the event and were prepared for any kind of weather when they flew to Portland. Sept. 25 dawned cold but clear, and they had a day of sunshine for their rides in the hilly wine country west of Portland. Armstrong and other cycling greats such as George Hincapie took part. The course was lined with thousands of cheering spectators, and the riders were entertained at every rest stop with themed atmospheres created by volunteers.
Looking back, Carol and Jay now understand that the trip to Portland was about much more than completing a long tour and raising funds to support families affected by cancer. It really was about the process they went through leading up to the day of the ride.
“I came back to Steamboat with a sense of renewal,” Carol said. “It’s a healing journey. I’ve come back emotionally energized.”
Jay said that although he shared his mother’s sense of healing, an undercurrent of sadness at the event also struck him.
“We were doing this because cancer is killing people,” Jay said.
All of the participants were invited to ride with a card pinned to their jerseys signifying whether they were pedaling as survivors, in honor of another individual or in memory of someone they had lost.
“I saw people who had four to five ‘In Memory Of’ cards on their backs,” Jay said. “That’s a really tough thing emotionally. We’re doing this to make a difference.”
One thing that made a difference for Jay that autumn day in Oregon was the bike he rode — his father’s Moots road bike — the same Vamoots model he rode 13 months earlier in Moab.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org