In capturing a silver medal at last year’s Olympics, Geneva High School alumnus Kevin McDowell had to first overcome other challenges.
That includes cancer. McDowell, who earned a silver medal in the first-ever triathlon mixed relay at the Olympic Games, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011 when he was a senior at Geneva High School.
For the second year in a row, McDowell will participate in the W.A.R. on Wheels charity ride, an event organized by the St. Charles-based nonprofit group Cal’s Angels, which has a mission of raising awareness, granting wishes and funding research for pediatric cancer research. The goal of the ride is to raise at least $1 million.
W.A.R. stands for wishes, awareness and research. Every dollar donated will allow Cal’s Angels to help children fighting cancer through granting wishes, raising awareness and funding research.
After McDowell was diagnosed with cancer, Cal’s Angels granted his wish and presented him with his first iPad. McDowell, who now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said the gift was very much appreciated, especially since he was confined to his bed much of the time because of his cancer treatments.
“It was a great source of entertainment for me,” said McDowell, who recently turned 30 and has been free of cancer for 11 years. “I used it to not only watch videos but also to communicate with my friends who I wasn’t able to be with that summer as much as I would have.”
The ride, which will encompass nearly 1,000 miles, will begin Aug. 21 in Mackinaw City, Michigan, and end Aug. 27 at Flagship on the Fox in downtown St. Charles. Joining McDowell on the ride will be his mother, Traci.
Cal’s Angels president and co-founder Stacey Wahlberg helped start the group in 2007 after her stepson Cal Sutter, a South Elgin Little League All-Star, lost his battle with acute myelogenous leukemia at the age of 13.
McDowell is grateful for the help that Cal’s Angels gave him after he was diagnosed with cancer.
“They really helped me through my treatment and granted my wish,” McDowell said. “Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to kind of give back whenever I could, knowing how incredible of a charity they are.”
During last year’s ride, which started at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota and ended in St. Charles, McDowell met some kids who were battling cancer.
“That was very inspiring,” he said. “When we were in Iowa City, there was a girl at a hospital who had been there for a very, very long time. And that was the first time she was able to at least come outside and say hi. I remember how she lit up in meeting us. That was definitely a big highlight.”
Earlier this year, McDowell was inducted into the Geneva High School Athletic Hall of Fame. He is the first Geneva High School athlete to win an Olympic medal.
McDowell’s victory over cancer taught him there are many paths to achieving a goal.
“There’s many trials along the way and it’s just about how you handle them and work through them,” he said. “It took to almost last year to get to where I envisioned myself to be many years before.”
In addition to fundraising events, Cal’s Angels is working to introduce Cal’s Law, which aims to make diagnostic testing for pediatric cancer patients more accessible. The bill recently was signed into law in Illinois with plans to introduce it in states across the country.
For more information about Cal’s Angels, go to calsangels.org.