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Schwab: Teammates, community rally behind Geneva's McDowell

Triathlete and former Geneva High School star runner Kevin McDowell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last month. (Kane County Chronicle file photo)
Triathlete and former Geneva High School star runner Kevin McDowell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last month. (Kane County Chronicle file photo)

Kevin McDowell intends to turn a wicked twist of fate into another challenge to be conquered.

Anyone familiar with McDowell knows he’s up for a challenge.

This Sunday, a fundraiser ride is planned at the Bike Rack in St. Charles to benefit McDowell, the internationally renowned Geneva triathlete who was diagnosed about a month ago with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Cyclists and non-cyclists alike can donate to a travel fund to allow McDowell to continue to travel with his triathlon teammates, or to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in McDowell’s honor.

The fundraiser is the latest gesture by an extended support group that McDowell said has been overwhelming since his early March diagnosis. While McDowell’s iron will largely comes from within, the backing of his family, friends, neighbors, teammates and church community have further emboldened the 18-year-old to confront his diagnosis with the utmost resolve.

McDowell’s diagnosis came just a few days removed from his first professional triathlon race, another highlight in what had been an extraordinary stretch for the recent Geneva High graduate. In the fall, McDowell solidified his place as a serious up-and-comer in U.S. Triathlon, winning the silver medal at the Youth Olympics in Singapore and, weeks later, taking the bronze at the prestigious International Triathlon Union Junior World Championship in Hungary.

All of his superb achievements – including being named U.S. Triathlon Junior Triathlete of the Year in January – were set aside in the uncertain days before the family heard the relatively favorable outlook.

While still a serious condition, the early-stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis brings excellent prospects for a full recovery after six months of intense treatment, a markedly more encouraging scenario than was originally feared.

Astonishingly enough, McDowell is already back to practicing with his Multisport Madness Triathlon Team, having recently received clearance to bicycle, swim and run, albeit at a less strenuous clip than he has grown accustomed. McDowell’s mother, Traci, said the workouts will actually help Kevin as he undergoes chemotherapy treatment, provided he temporarily reins in his to-the-max training impulses.

“Kevin’s got this mentality, his mind is so strong over his body, which is going to help him so much with this process,” Traci McDowell said. “He can take himself to places a lot of athletes can’t take themselves to, pain-wise. We’re going to have to make sure he doesn’t cross that line.”

McDowell is grateful for the chance to regain a semblance of order by working out with his teammates. Even before he was cleared, McDowell remained around the team, and continued his internship at the business run by Keith Dickson, the founder of Multisport Madness.

“It keeps me busy and not just laying around, and keeps me thinking about doing what I can instead of thinking about what I can’t,” McDowell said.

His moments away from triathlon can be equally uplifting. McDowell was hanging out with friends on March 11 when word came that cycling legend and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong wished McDowell well on his Twitter account.

Flattering as it was to receive encouragement from Armstrong, the most striking gestures are those that have come close to home.

Neighbors along his Geneva block showed support by lining their trees with yellow bows. He has felt the community’s warmth on a daily basis, be it at Batavia United Methodist Church, through the organization of this weekend’s fundraiser or the way friends and teammates have done “anything and everything for him” to help raise his spirits, his mother said.

The trick has been convincing Kevin that he’s worthy of all the fuss, despite his occasional protests that he has “the good kind of cancer,” relatively speaking.

“We’re like, ‘You know what, you’re going through cancer,’” Traci McDowell said. “You’re going through chemo – this is real, buddy. It’s OK.’ He’s just very overwhelmed and amazed in a positive manner, and in some ways he sounds like he’s not deserving of it.”

Deep down, he is thankful for the showering of support, which starts at home with Traci, his dad, Mark, and younger sister, Jill. Some trying months, physically, still await, and it will sting when he has to deviate from his planned race progression, but McDowell is confident the next six months will be a character-strengthening episode in his remarkable journey.

If all goes to plan, McDowell, who graduated early from Geneva to accelerate his training, should complete treatment in August, and still intends to attend school and resume triathlon in the fall at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

He’ll be a changed young man by then – but for the better, he believes.

And all the more willing to stand up to all challenges.

“My swim coach actually told me to use this to refuel your passion for life and triathlon,” McDowell said. “In a way, I’m just going to let this refuel me up.”

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or

Miles for McDowell
A 12-hour, computrainer marathon ride to benefit Kevin McDowell, an 18-year-old star Geneva triathlete who recently was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. You don’t have to ride to donate.

When: 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Bike Rack, 2930 Campton Hills Rd., St. Charles

How to help: Donate to travel/expense fund so that Kevin can travel with his Multisport Madness Triathlon team to support them at national and international races this year. Donations can be made online at or by mail to MMTT (a 501c3 charitable organization) for benefit of Kevin McDowell to MMTT, 2135 CityGate Lane, Naperville, IL 60563. You can also donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Kevin’s honor at
For more information: Go to

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