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Two-Time Paralympic Gold Medalist Curtis Lovejoy: Not Done Yet

By Ryan Wilson | Dec. 18, 2020, 9:14 p.m. (ET)

Curtis Lovejoy swims at the 2019 Indianapolis World Series.

Curtis Lovejoy entered a new chapter of his life on Oct. 3, 2019.

He was practicing fencing, and he got hit on the back of his head. A knot swelled up, and, naturally, he took two aspirin. But the swelling wasn’t going down. He saw his primary care doctor, and he was instructed to take two ibuprofen.

Still, the swelling persisted, and grew. It started to appear like leprosy, as swelling was popping up inside his body and in between his groin. The 62-year-old then went to another doctor, and eventually five specialists.

One doctor sat Lovejoy down.

“He said, ‘Listen, this is not good, Curtis.”

Lovejoy, known for his decorated Para swimming and fencing careers, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, cancer in the blood. Leukemia does not run in his family, and he thought his swimming career was over.

Yet, much to his surprise, his doctor started reminding him of his accomplishments: five Paralympic Games appearances, two gold medals, hundreds of podium finishes at swimming and fencing competitions, and dozens of world records.

“She said, ‘Curtis, if anybody could beat leukemia, it’s you. You are a healthy 62-year-old athlete,’” Lovejoy remembers his doctor saying. “She said, ‘If you’re willing to go through the eight chemo sessions, I promise you, you will prevail.’”

Lovejoy underwent the necessary chemotherapy sessions when he was “talking out of (his) mind.” He admits he didn’t think he was going to make it. For his last two rounds of chemo, earlier this year, his wife, Mamie, could not be by his side due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was probably the most trying time of my life,” Curtis said. Was I thinking about swimming or fencing at that time? No. I was thinking about where I was. I couldn’t eat. I lost 56 pounds.”

He also had the hiccups for days, as well as bed sores. Still, doctors were determined to get the man known as “C-Love” back to swimming form.

Lovejoy kept his diagnosis out of the public eye until making a public statement July 16 on FOX SOUL, a streaming service for Black American viewers. Now in remission from cancer, Lovejoy said God is telling him to continue competing for one more year, up until he turns 64.

“I told God I only want to do it one more time.”

But since Lovejoy has not competed for a year, he needs to qualify for the national team again. He practices three times a week from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. He maintains social distance from people, and Mamie will check the temperatures of family members as an added precaution.

“I got a wife who stays on me. … It’s best to be safe.”

Lovejoy’s next competition is currently slated for next year. He said he has gotten more rest than ever before, and his commitment to excelling appears no different than in years past.

“Competing is showtime, man,” Lovejoy said. “You train for that, and you live for the moment. That’s what I love about competing.”

Lovejoy had prostate cancer earlier in his swimming career, and, albeit with resistance from his doctors, he bounced right back into success. He is not particularly sure how this new journey will turn out, but he knows his purpose stretches far beyond what the pool can offer him.

“Whether I win a medal or not, I don’t know,” Lovejoy said. “Does the world think I can do it? Oh no, the world doesn’t think I can do that. That’s my purpose: Keep fighting, keep showing, keep showing people that I can prevail no matter what I go through.”

He said his battle with leukemia taught him a valuable lesson about his body, and how he plans on approaching his life going forward.

“The key to all of this that I overlooked is just one little word: It’s patience. I wasn’t being patient enough. Patience is thinking about today, not to think about tomorrow.”

His faith will remain his compass.

“If God decides to tell me tomorrow, ‘Don’t do it.’ Then I’ll sign the piece of paper (for retirement). Until he tells me to sign the piece of paper, I’m going along with it.”

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.