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Cycling challenge holds special meaning for Bainbridge biker

Bruce Donald looking out to the future and ‘What’s next?’ at Fay Bainbridge just before his diagnosis. - Photo courtesy of Janice Donald
Bruce Donald looking out to the future and ‘What’s next?’ at Fay Bainbridge just before his diagnosis.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Janice Donald

Islander Janice Donald has never gone three full days of cycling, but that won’t stop her this weekend at the CowaLUNGa cycling event in Illinois.

Two years ago, Janice Donald and her husband, Bruce Donald, had completed their first Hustle Up the Hancock 94-flight stair-climb event hosted by the Respiratory Health Association. It was after this event that the couple first got wind of the association’s three-day bike tour.

Donald, who is a personal trainer and is affected by Exercise-Induced Asthma, participated in the stair-climb challenge with her husband because she thought it was a good cause, but more because she couldn’t help but want to beat a trainer friend 10 years her junior who challenged her to the climb.

This was before it became personal.

This was back in 2011, before her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer.

The following year, the couple was back at the Hustle Up the Hancock.

“We had only just learned of Bruce’s diagnosis two weeks prior, and I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do it that year,” Donald said. “He was weak, but he was there at the top waiting with my coffee. From then on, it has been very personal.”

On Valentine’s Day in 2012, instead of going to dinner that evening as they had planned, Donald and her husband ended up in the hospital. Bruce Donald had suffered a seizure which they later found out was caused by stage IV lung cancer.

“I will never get over the fact that I left for work in the morning with what I thought was a healthy husband,” Donald said.

“He never got sick, he never coughed, never had sore throat and was never short of breath. He had quit smoking more than 20 years ago and never showed any signs of lung cancer, yet it had already metastasized.”

A lack of symptoms is not unusual for lung cancer patients. It is often diagnosed in the late stages. But by stage IV, the five-year survival rate is less than 2 percent.

Bruce Donald was the kind of man who was always looking at the next step. He didn’t rely on the sit-there-and-see-how-it-goes method to living.

So, just as it was natural for him to fight for recovery, it was natural for him to want to make sure his wife could be taken care of by family if there came a day where he couldn’t.

Though born and raised in Seattle, it had been 30 years before Janice Donald had come home to live, not visit.

In December of last year, nine months after her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer, the Donalds relocated from Chicago back to the Seattle area and to Bainbridge Island to be closer to her family.

Bruce Donald passed away on Dec. 17, 2012; 17 days after he and Janice moved to the island.

The following February, she was back at the Hustle Up the Hancock in Chicago. It was her third year going, and it was the first without Bruce.

“I cried several times going up the stairs,” Donald said. “But I knew Bruce was my, and my son’s, all-time champion, and he believed we could do anything.”

She set her goal to climb the 94 flights of stairs in less than 20 minutes.

She made it to the top in 19.

After achieving a new best time at the Hustle Up the Hancock and after an almost year-long battle with her husband’s health, the CowaLUNGa bike tour reemerged as her next goal.

When she had first mentioned the CowaLUNGa to Bruce in 2011, he thought it was nutty idea to ride that much on a bike but was, nonetheless, all for traveling along as her cheerleader and personal cook.

“Even last year, his plan was to recover so he could go along this year,” Donald said. “His plan was always to recover.”

This weekend, Aug. 3-5, Donald will bike 190 miles from northern Illinois to southern Wisconsin to support lung cancer research with the Respiratory Health Association.

“My husband was very much an idea man; he was always thinking about what’s next,” Donald explained. “It’s a way for him to be involved with what’s next, how do we cure this.”

Today, Donald is a personal trainer at the Bainbridge Athletic Club. There, she has trained on the cycling machines for the past year. She also rides outdoors to condition herself with Bainbridge hills.

“It’s a tribute to him, a challenge for me, a way for me to say thank you for taking care of me for all those years,” Donald said.

To offer Donald words of encouragement or support her fundraising, visit www.lungchicago.org/janicedonald.

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