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Photo ©: Sirotti

Tales from the peloton November 22, 2007

Jane Tomlinson: The indomitable spirit of an iron lady

Continued from part one.

Crumbling body, determined mind

Jane and co-rider Ryan Bowd
Photo ©: Mike Tomlinson
(Click for larger image)

Looking back, Bowd is hugely impressed by what she achieved on the bike. He feels that another feat possibly gave her more personal satisfaction, though. "I think for her, the biggest achievement was the Ironman. I think it was the one that she took the greatest amount of personal joy from, because if there was any one-day event that someone in her condition looked least likely to be able to complete, that was it.

"There is a huge challenge – it was the most she biked in a day, of any of her challenges. There was 112 miles, plus the swim, plus the marathon."

Jane Tomlinson's three children.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The Ironman is perhaps the biggest athletic test that can be undertaken in one day. It comprises a four-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike ride and then a full marathon, and is known the world over as a supremely tough feat. Finishing one is a big badge of honour for a fit, healthy person. Doing so while terminally ill requires a very special spirit.

"I think part of her satisfaction was also the fact that at that event, Jane was competing on equal grounds as everybody else, but everybody else didn't have her condition. She had done that in marathons and in things like that, but never in an event of that scale.

"Her husband Mike described it in a good way. He said that if you looked at the start line that day, you had all these super-humans that do Ironman competitions, and Jane. She was there with this little, frail, body which was slowly being destroyed by a disease that would eventually take her too early. That kind of summed her up... she had a super-human spirit. I think she also felt incredibly proud – as anyone would, her condition apart – when she crossed the finish line and became an Ironwoman, became a member of that club.

"She earned her membership on equal par to everyone else who can call themselves an Ironman."

The three cycling trips were also hugely rewarding. "I think that the rides had a very, very unique significance to her," he continued. "I think that if you take the context that in the cycling community, anyone who takes a challenge like biking from Rome to Home, or riding across America is doing something big. It doesn't matter how long you took, there is a clear appreciation amongst the cycling fraternity for that.

"I know that friends of mine who are category one racers see the Ride Across America as a huge achievement. I think that Jane loved cycling. She and Stephen, her son, were massive cycling fans. And so to be able to create those memories for her family while doing something she loved, and to raise huge amounts of money, are amazing."

Michael and Steven Tomlinson
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

She's gone now, passed over to whatever lies beyond. Her family are undoubtedly missing her greatly, but she's left behind some important things. For her husband and children, there are memories of a life lived to the full, a special final seven years. For her extended family and friends, there's the knowledge that she achieved something very special with the time she had left. And for the cancer community and those indirectly touched by the disease, she showed that life goes on, even after the shocking news that a cure is not always possible.

"Hopefully she will help to redefine how people – both those who are diagnosed, but also those who know people who are diagnosed – think of that diagnosis," says Bowd. "She will hopefully inspire people not to give up and, equally, inspire people not to sit there looking at your loved one with the belief that they should just sit at home and wait to die."

"Creating memories is something incredibly special. It is what your family and your loved ones will have after, but also if you can do it in a way that helps other people, even better. Her goal was twofold. It was to create better memories for her family, but it was also to raise money so that in the future, others wouldn't have to go through what her family had to go through."

She was, it must be said, a truly remarkable woman.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Mike Tomlinson

Images by Ryan Bowd

Images by AFP Photo

  • Jane Tomlinson in June 2004.
  • Jane Tomlinson in May 2004 with British ambassador to France, Sir John Holmes, and her brother Luke (r). She attended the British embassy in Paris as part of the Rome to Leeds charity ride.
  • Jane Tomlinson and her brother Luke Goward pedal past the Houses of Parliament in London June 2, 2004 after their arrival as part of a 35-day bike ride from Rome to Leeds.
  • Jane Tomlinson's three children. Steven Tomlinson (2nd r), 10, poses with his father Michael (L) and sisters Suzanne and Rebecca (r) after receiving his mother's Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace in London, 15 November 2007.
  • Michael and Steven Tomlinson pose after receiving Jane's Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in London, 15 November 2007.

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