The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


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

Text Only
  • life dr Wellness Wednesday: Adding an ‘I’ to TEAM

    Erica Tuckwiller is pediatrician with a deep-seated passion for changing the course of the childhood obesity epidemic.

    “As a physician, good nutrition is one of the biggest challenges I face in the care of our children and I actually have been involved in the fight against childhood obesity beginning with my senior thesis early in my college career at WVU,” she stated.


    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • bob thompson The jazz man

    If Bob Thompson’s 30-year career as a professional musician has taught him anything, it’s that there are really only two kinds of music.


    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Leave a good legacy, and respect others’

    The death this week of the Rev. Jerry Falwell led to a network and cable blitz of commentaries on his life. We’ve been bombarded with a flurry of eulogies, criticisms, apathetic shrugs and lots of news footage regarding Falwell’s faith and foibles.


    July 26, 2014

  • 072314 Life CrossFit 4.jpg Crossfit Nation: Working out the WOD way

    Just as fashion trends come and go, so do fitness fads, and Cyndie Chinn had tried them all.

    July 23, 2014 3 Photos

  • downsize 1 Living large in smaller spaces

    How is it possible that as your nest gets emptier, your garage gets fuller? Living off the grid sounds tantalizing — the extreme version of paring down. But are you ready for solar panels and growing your own groceries or would a smaller home do the trick?

    July 20, 2014 3 Photos

  • Relishing the faith of little children

    July 19, 2014

  • Guns 1 ‘Guns’ for Life

    With the latest World Health Organization figures showing global life expectancy increasing from 64 years in 1990 to 70 years in 2011, staying healthy enough to add quality to the quantity of life is an important consideration.

    July 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • coconut 4 Crack open the power of the coconut

    Now let’s get this straight …
      We know about Parrotheads. And Cheeseheads. But when did Coconut Heads become cool?
    Move over, argan — you are so last season. Another exotic oil is taking lead role in everything from shampoo to weight-loss supplements. That cast-iron skillet seasoning, stretch-mark banishing essence of the hour is — coconut oil.

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Free summer serenade concert to be held

    Aurora Celtic, sponsored by Ivy & Stone, presents the free Summer Serenade concert Saturday at 6 p.m. on the Brown House lawn in Summersville.

    July 13, 2014

  • WVU Extension: Healthy summer eating tips for all occasions

    Summer and early fall are the times of year for family reunions, potluck picnics, pool parties and various other celebrations where we like to share food.

    July 13, 2014