Cancer Survivor Kevin McDowell Wins Pan Ams Silver To Cap Comeback

By Mike Gardner | July 12, 2015, 1:49 p.m. (ET)
Kevin McDowell competes in men's triathlon at the 2015 Pan American Games on July 12, 2015 in Toronto.


TORONTO -- In 2011, Kevin McDowell was undergoing chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was diagnosed just days after his professional debut. Four years later, he is a Pan American Games medalist as the 22-year-old earned silver in the men’s triathlon Sunday at the Ontario Place West Channel in Toronto.

“I can’t even describe it yet, I mean it was a big battle to get over everything I went through and I had to take a lot of time off, and then coming back,” McDowell said. “At one point I didn’t know if I would get back, so this just verifies what we’ve done is right in taking the time and the patience.

“I would not be here today without (my coaches), my family and all of USA Triathlon, everyone around me for their support, because it was tough and it means a lot and it means I’m back; I’m better than I was. It just means exciting things to come because I feel like the moment is starting to go, learning more and getting experience.”

According to McDowell, after a rough 1,500-meter swim, teammate Eric Lagerstrom waited for him during the bicycle transition and the two eventually caught up to the main pack, allowing McDowell to be in medal contention for the final 10-kilometer run.

McDowell finished with a time of 1:48:59, one second behind gold medalist Crisanto Grajales (1:48.58) of Mexico and ahead of Mexican Irving Perez (1:49.05). Hunter Kemper finished eighth while Lagerstrom placed 17th. The triathlon trio was in the front of the pack through most of the bike and running segments providing support for McDowell.

“A few years ago, he was in a tough spot,” Kemper said of his teammate. “It’s an amazing story with what he’s overcome, what he’s gotten through. I think that valley that he’s gone through got him on the podium today. The kind of perseverance and courage that he’s shown, it’s pretty impressive. Not many people have that background that he does.”

Kemper, the oldest competitor in the field at 39 and searching for his third Pan American Games medal, admitted that old age got the better of him during the event.

“I feel like I’m old, actually, I felt old out there today running-wise,” Kemper said. “It’s tough when you’re racing and you have doubts, it’s not a good place to be so I’m trying to finish my career on a positive and we’ll see.”

For McDowell, having Kemper as a mentor was important, as 16 years ago, Kemper won a silver medal at his Pan American Games debut in Winnipeg.

“He has been huge,” McDowell said. “This whole Games he’s been taking us under his wing.

“It was actually really cool to find out I’m following the same thing; he was my age when he went to his first Pan American Games and he got silver as well, so it’s like following the same routes as him. He was huge and Sarah Haskins as well. The experience they gave us and showed us was huge.”