June 20, 2013

Jade Wilcoxson Turned a Diagnosis into a Triumph

Most people have a hard time taking their doctor’s advice when they are told to change behaviors.  No one wants to adopt diet restrictions or begin exercising, even when his or her health is on the line.  If he or she complies, it’s usually just to meet the new requirements.  It’s a rare person who exceeds doctor recommendations.  Jade Wilcoxson is one of those rare people who not only exceeded her doctor’s expectations in her lifestyle changes, she became a national champion and is poised to compete in the next Olympic games!

Jade was 26 years old when she learned that her blood sugar levels were high and that she carried a genetic predisposition to diabetes.  She didn’t feel any differently, but she had seen what diabetes had done to several of her family members.  Jade knew that she needed to take even better care of her body to avoid developing this disease. She had played soccer professionally and dabbled in other sports and she already ate nutritiously.  What more could she do?

The same year she learned she was prediabetic, Jade had completed a doctorate degree in physical therapy.  Each day, Jade worked with disabled patients overcoming obstacles in performing physical tasks.  She recalled, “It takes months of hard work to go from not being able to move in bed to being able to walk at home safely, and it is painful work.  Those patients inspired me.”

Some friends dragged Jade out to mountain bike with them.  She was surprised that she could stay up with them through the rough course, although she was riding for the first time.  “They were shocked when I could hang on with them and ride a lot of the stuff they thought was difficult.  So, being a very competitive person, I was intrigued by the opportunity to be able to show the boys I could [beat them] on a regular basis.”

After a while, Jade’s roommate’s brother dragged Jade and her new mountain bike to a 100 mile race.  Jade placed ahead of all of the other women competing!  She was stunned, and hooked!  She trained for hours after work.  Switching to a road racing bike, Jade began to train for speed.  Jade began competing in local races in her hometown and winning.  When she beat Kristin Armstrong (an Olympic Gold medalist) at the 2011 Sea Otter Classic, she quit her job and turned professional.  She was now 34 years old, ten years older than the average age of professional cyclists.  Despite that fact, Jade had talent, trained hard, and won races!  

Jade joined a cycling team with three other cyclists named “Optum Pro,” named after a health-care company.  With the help of a trainer, and years of training, this team won the US Pro National Championship last week!  Jade was the first to cross the finish line and gets to wear a special jacket all year.  She humbly said, “I just happened to be the lucky one that crossed the line. Cycling is funny that way. It is 100% a team sport, but in many ways, only one person gets the recognition.”  Now she has set her eyes on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, when she will be 38 years old!  That will be a race to watch.

Jade hopes that she is setting a good example for good health, using her new celebrity status to send a public health message to the world.  She has lost 20 pounds since her diagnosis 9 years ago and her blood sugar levels are back to normal.  People are hearing her story about how she turned her pre-diabetic diagnosis around.  “I struggle with what I’m doing now to help people’s lives, to help the world as a whole.  Cycling is a selfish profession.  You have to be self centered in your training and travel.” 

Her advice to all of us:  “Make some changes that will pay off tenfold down the road.”  That’s exactly what Jade did—she made changes that paid off in a big way almost 10 years later.  Not only did she stave off a terrible debilitating disease, but she became a National Champion!  Jade shows us that we can take bad news and make something great with hard work and determination.

Works Cited
Helliker, Kevin. "Cycling's One-in-a-Million Star." Wall Street Journal 14 June 2013: d8. Print.
Wilcoxson, Jade. Jade Wilcoxson.com. 3 June 2013. web. 20 June 2013.  

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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