The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

August 18, 2013

When All You Can Do Is ‘Tri’

Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch called it the “Elephant in the Room” in what he titled and what was broadcast worldwide as “The Last Lecture.”

Lewisburg resident Carolyn Komar understands why Pausch gave less than two minutes of an over one-and-a-quarter-hour lecture to his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Her husband, Jim Cooper, also had to get past a poor prognosis to focus on something positive; Jim turned his elephant in the room into the momentum to raise funds for a cure, an intention his wife is carrying forward.

“When you get the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, it’s never a good thing,” says Carolyn. “Up until Jim lost the ability to relate to reality, which was just the last couple of days, he was determined he wasn’t gonna die from this. He was a fighter  — very, very stubborn.”

 Jim was half of the equation prompting Carolyn to join forces with others to form The Greenbrier Group to Fight Pancreatic Cancer. At the same time she was dealing with her husband’s fight, Carolyn was losing her father, Alfred “Al” Komar to the same disease. Jim and Al passed away within two weeks of each other last year, Jan. 12 and Jan. 1, respectively.

Following her husband’s example, Carolyn quickly turned devastation into empowerment.

“I had wanted to have a triathlon event. When Jim and I first talked about it he said, ‘Carolyn, just because you want to do something doesn’t mean everybody else wants to.’”

Far from being a doubter, Jim was simply walking his athletic, outdoorsy wife through the possibilities. He had worked in economic development; his forte was planning and branding ways to stimulate communities into action.

“He was good at bringing other people together, at finding out what they wanted to do, because if you don’t have buy-in, it’s not going to work.”

Before Jim’s death, the couple began conceptualizing the possibilities for rallying southern West Virginia to donate to the Lustgarten Foundation. Carolyn remembers researching the unfamiliar name behind the Johns Hopkins University clinical trial in which Jim was a participant. Lustgarten, she discovered, was a small foundation established in 1998 when an executive of Cablevision Systems Corp., Marc Lustgarten, died from pancreatic cancer. Cablevision Systems underwrites Lustgarten Foundation’s administrative costs, explains Carolyn, so 100 percent of every dollar given can go directly to research for a cure.

Without Jim by her side, Carolyn placed a classified ad in November 2012 seeking anyone interested in raising money and awareness for pancreatic cancer to meet her at the library. Five people showed at the initial meeting. Subsequent meetings grew to seven, nine, 11.

Finally, a band of friends who knew Jim and some who were strangers to Carolyn but whose lives had also been touched by the disease assembled themselves into The Greenbrier Group to Fight Pancreatic Cancer.

The team’s first fundraising attempt was a November showing of Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine Alumni Center. The open event raised $1,300. “We were thrilled,” remarks Carolyn. It was all the momentum they needed to try bigger things.

Carolyn decided to revisit her idea of hosting a triathlon, getting the level of buy-in Jim would’ve required to move forward. The theme of the event not only fit Carolyn’s interests, but embodied the healthy lifestyle Jim had tried hard to adopt for the last several years of his life, standing as one undisputed way to take up arms against life-threatening diseases including cancer.

The resulting event is a Sept. 8 Du/Triathlon at Lake Sherwood, Greenbrier County. The duathlon is a 1-mile starter run, followed by a 13.5-mile bike ride and a 5K (3.1 mile) run against the bucolic backdrop of the Monongahela National Forest.

The USA Triathlon-sanctioned triathlon event includes a 740-meter swim, followed by a 13.5-mile bike ride and a 5K run. The course is considered challenging enough for seasoned triathletes, but Carolyn and her team chose what would also be an acceptable course for first-timers. Both individuals and teams may still sign up for the races.

WVSOM Wilderness Medicine Club is helping organize the event and has taken The Greenbrier Group to Fight Pancreatic Cancer on as a community-service project. Their presence on race day will also ensure athlete safety.

Carolyn is well pleased that so many have responded to her mission, one Jim would’ve endorsed with his usual enthusiasm.

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the top five cancers, but it receives very little federal research funding — less than prostate or breast or colon cancer,” explains Carolyn. “If things don’t change, pancreatic cancer will actually surpass lung cancer in number of people killed each year. It is one of the less curable cancers and usually by the time it is diagnosed, it’s too late.”

— E-mail lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

1
Text Only
Life!
  • crowcookbook Kitchen comfort

    For Janet Crow of Quinwood, this Easter marks a deeply personal miracle — that of countless prayers for her physical restoration whispered by people who cared more than she could’ve ever imagined.

    April 20, 2014 3 Photos

  • Scholarship for girls in a health science field established at BAF

    In every community there is work to be done and each community member has something to contribute.

    April 20, 2014

  • Concord University mounting production of ‘Spoon River’

    Concord University’s Theatre Department will perform “Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters in the H.C. Paul Theatre April 23-26 at 8 p.m. nightly.

    April 20, 2014

  • Society seeking items for Vietnam War exhibit

    The Greenbrier Historical Society is seeking photographs, artifacts and local history to include in an upcoming exhibit about remembering the Vietnam War.

    April 20, 2014

  • Rock violinist, stand-up comic to perform in free events at Lewisburg

    The Greenbrier Valley Campus of New River Community and Technical College will celebrate Student Appreciation Week April 21-25 with a number of events including two special performances that are open to the public free of charge.

    April 20, 2014

  • Dance workshop, show planned

    The stars will shine brightly over the pyramids this month — only these pyramids will be in Beckley. And these stars will both twinkle and dance.

    April 20, 2014

  • Live transmission of The Met’s ‘Così fan tutte’ at GVT

    In partnership with The MET: Live in HD series, Greenbrier Valley Theatre presents a live transmission of Mozart’s joyful and heart-rendering masterpiece, “Così fan tutte,” Saturday at 12:55 p.m.

    April 20, 2014

  • Stories give us kinship with strangers

    Editor’s note: This column by the late Bev Davis originally was published April 10, 2010.
     
    My dad was a coal miner. By the time I came along, he was working above ground as a tipple foreman.

    April 19, 2014

  • momrun Just do it W.Va.!

    “Missy’s here — we’re not going to win. Missy’s here…”
    Learning she was a perceived threat from two women whispering at the starting line behind her, women she had never met from among the hopping, stretching, Lycra-clad crowd, had one effect on Missy Burleson — a smile spreading as far as her feet were about to sprint her.

    April 16, 2014 5 Photos

  • living will 1 Decision day

    Pastor Roger Pauley and his wife Marcia were — like so many other baby boomers — charged with the responsibility of making decisions for their aging parents. For the pastor’s father, death was sudden.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos