In the decade after graduating from California State University, Northridge in 1998, the energetic Jamie Whitmore became the most successful female athlete in the history of the Xterra off-road triathlon series, netting 37 championship titles.
In February 2008, everything changed. Persistent leg pain left Whitmore, a former collegiate track and cross country runner, bedridden. After exploratory surgery that month, she was saddled with a catheter. A biopsy, followed by another surgery in March, revealed a cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit wrapped around her sciatic nerve on the spinal cord. When Whitmore woke up from surgery, she couldn’t feel her left foot—she was paralyzed from the knee down.
Later that year, the cancerous spindle cell sarcoma returned, leading to another surgery to remove Whitmore’s left gluteal muscle, part of her tailbone and sacral nerve. “It got really scary,” says Whitmore, whose 5-foot-5 frame whittled down to 98 pounds. “I was in and out of the hospital fighting for my life. I can remember walking with a walker and being just skin and bones.”
But this was far from the end of the road for Whitmore, who refused to give up.
In 2011, after five more surgeries and remarkably giving birth to twins, Whitmore and her husband went for a tandem bike ride. Less than a year later, Whitmore raced the Xterra USA Championship in Ogden, Utah, and Xterra Guam Championship, and finished the 2012 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race in less than 12 hours.