Local cancer survivor Jamie Alamillo is beginning his 540-mile bike ride journey, starting in Santa Clarita and going to Lake Tahoe to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on Thursday.
Alamillo was diagnosed with an advanced stage of multiple myeloma, an aggressive cancer that causes cancer to form in plasma cells, in late 2013.
It began as simple back pain, but quickly evolved into something that would forever change his life. On Nov. 16, 2013, the back pain came back “with a vengeance,” and Alamillo found himself paralyzed from the waist down.
“I couldn’t walk, couldn’t move,” he said. “My wife had to roll me in a blanket and push me down the stairs like they were a slide.”
Alamillo was rushed to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, where doctors discovered that his paralysis was due to lesions on his spine that had broken his back at T7, located near his shoulder blade, and L4 in his lower back.
“I owe Henry Mayo my life,” he said.
Not only was Alamillo told he would never walk again, but also that he had a lifespan of seven years. He immediately did the math, realizing that meant his son would only be 9 and daughter 8 — if he survived until then.
“I’ve got babies, and I want to see them grow, I want to be there for them,” he said. “I prayed to take me when I’m older so my kids are older and they can understand.”
Alamillo was then transferred to the physical therapy department where he spent a month with the “best therapists in the world,” healing his back so he could then begin chemotherapy. When he went home, he wasn’t able to walk, yet, but his legs were getting stronger.
After 10 rounds of radiation in 10 weeks and nine months of going to an oncologist twice a week for chemotherapy, Alamillo was finally a candidate for a stem cell transplant.
His numbers quickly went up after the treatment, and on July 21, 2014, he was told he was in remission.
“I won that battle, the next battle was learning how to walk again,” he said.
It was another year until he was able to walk, but immediately Alamillo decided that if he was going to walk, he was going to run.
Alamillo is also an Army veteran, so he decided to do his first half marathon on Veteran’s Day that year, and teamed up with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training to fundraise for cancer research.
“My friends showed up with ‘Team Jamie’ written on their running bibs, and that was the whole start of this thing,” he said.
Since then, Alamillo has done 13 half marathons, three marathons, one Ironman duathlon and one international triathlon.
Although his legs are still numb from the knees down, he began to do also do bike rides, including the 100-mile century ride at America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe.
That was when Alamillo asked himself, “What else can I do for this organization?” and decided to not only cycle from Santa Clarita to Lake Tahoe, but then complete this year’s century ride, totaling 540 miles between May 23 and June 2.
“I thought, maybe I can give some people hope,” Alamillo said. “If I can give one person hope, it’s worth it for me. I want to do it because I can.”
When he approached Meredyth Gonzalez, senior campaign manager with Team In Training at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, with this “crazy, but epic” idea, she was surprised.
“When he told us that, we looked at each other and thought, ‘That’s crazy, but that’s also Jamie,’” Gonzalez said. “He’s a walking miracle, he always drives to inspire others and he really wants to make a change. Doing something this epic is going to raise awareness and bring in those donations.”
Alamillo will be leaving around 6 a.m. on Thursday, May 23, for the first leg of eight on his way north with the help of his father-in-law as his “support crew.”
His journey will take him through the Mojave Desert, mountains of Mammoth and into Tahoe with 20,000 feet of elevation over the 440 miles. He has never ridden in such cold weather, and said he is expecting some bad weather through parts.
“People in Santa Clarita are so awesome,” Alamillo said. “They’ve been coaching me through this cold weather stuff — I’ve got a ways to go though. I’m fast for my condition, but I’m taking my time.”
Alamillo is hoping to arrive in Tahoe, rest for just two days and then complete the 100-mile century bike race.
“There’s something different to be said for, ‘I’m going to ride to my race,’” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know if he knows how much awareness he is bringing to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He has such an inspirational story and people are attracted to it.”
Alamillo’s team is 45 strong, and they’re all completing Tahoe in one way or another, whether it’s through the triathlon, marathon or bike race.
They’ve raised a total of $142,370.86 towards their $150,000 goal for this year alone, totalling nearly $500,000 over the course of 3 years.
“The mission dollars he’s raising are so more families and patients can be helped,” Gonzalez said.
Alamillo is planning to live-stream his journey on Facebook, and hopes he can raise a total of $10,000 through this ride.
“I’ve got hundreds of people watching me and rooting for me, so I can’t let them down now,” Alamillo said. “We’re getting really close to a cure, but we’re not quite there yet. (My cancer) is incurable — it could come back tomorrow if it wants to. But it’s pretty promising that everyone is on our side.”
For more on Jamie Alamillo’s story or to donate, visit pages.teamintraining.org/calso/ambbr19/JAlamillo.