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Vol. LVIII, No. 9
May 5, 2006

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Cancer Survivor Excels at Winter Sport

Can you imagine the work involved in preparing for the 2006 Winter Games? Just ask Josh Sundquist, who spent many of his waking moments doing just that. "I spent all my money many times over, not to mention endless hours in the gym and on the slopes, drinking protein shakes and booking flights to obscure ski resorts, all the while figuring out how to be a student and an athlete at the same time."

Sundquist, a senior at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., saw his efforts pay off when he was selected as a member of an elite group of Olympians representing the United States. Like a number of other American athletes, he was on his way to Turin, Italy, to compete in the "granddaddy" of amateur sports as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team.

This year, the IX Paralympic Games were held Mar. 10-19 in Turin, 2 weeks after the Winter Olympics. Sundquist competed in two Alpine skiing events for men — slalom and giant slalom.

Josh Sundquist, a Paralympian for the U.S. and a senior at the College of William and Mary, spent summers as a camper and counselor at Camp Fantastic, held every August for children with cancer.
Sundquist, who lives each day "going for the gold," is not a newcomer to grueling tasks. He faced his most challenging life event on July 6, 1994, at age 9, when he was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Given a 50 percent chance to live, he underwent two rounds of chemotherapy and ultimately the loss of a leg. But instead of stopping him, the event seemed to set him in motion.

"Josh is one of the most courageous, hard-driving individuals I've ever met," said Larry Chloupek, an NCI employee who also lost his leg to cancer at an early age. Chloupek, who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds in his battle for survival, credits a wonderful family who encouraged and propelled him in his quest to succeed. In particular, his parents were the catalysts in guiding him both academically and in athletics. Two special teachers were also instrumental in shaping his optimistic outlook and providing needed incentive. "They taught me never to give up," Chloupek recalled. "Josh carries that same mentality."

Sundquist spent summers as a camper and counselor at Camp Fantastic, an NIH-affiliated residential camp held every August for children with cancer. It was there he met Chloupek, who has directed the camp's program for young adults since 1989. "[Josh] attended several of our ski weekends, which led to his passion for the sport," said Dave Smith, executive director of Special Love, Inc., which runs the camp.

Both men possessing a passion for competitive sports, Sundquist and Chloupek formed a natural bond, "realizing that in spite of physical limitations," as Chloupek said, success is individualized. "In the long run, it is measured not by what one accomplishes on the slopes, but in life itself."

One of Sundquist's most rewarding activities is speaking to middle and high school students. He was 12 when he gave his first motivational talk. "It's all part of giving back," noted the ski enthusiast, who fully appreciates being given a second chance at life.

Sundquist did not earn a medal in Turin during March, however, he believes that the Paralympics will inspire the next generation of athletes.

"Life is is beautiful," he explains. "I've learned to live it to the fullest."

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