Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remembering Jane

I feel a little sheepish about this post, because I wasn't close to because Jane, really. People have said a lot of things about Jane. Nice things. "Academically talented", "hard working", "upbeat", "athletic"...Bottom line for me was, Jane was flat-out smart: the cool kind of smart that makes other people smarter.We were in a couple of classes together at OSU.  She was also an Ironman triathlete - made it to Kona a couple of times, but was pretty low-key about it.

I was a lowly post-bacc...but I'd run out of normal classes to take, so Spring quarter saw me taking...weight training, performance cycling, first aid, performance swimming (I was trying to be a triathlete, see?), and - a graduate course in human micronutrient nutrition. We had to do presentations at the end of the term, and being the post-bacc, I got assigned the crappiest, most boring micronutrient on the planet: riboflavin. No one goes deficient, EVER, so there aren't any cool diseases to talk about. It's in a lot of foods, so there's not a particular group to study who might have nutritional issues surrounding it. It's not even very toxic. So - I decided to go deep and try for the Hail Mary...photochemistry. Riboflavin biodegrades in light - this is why vitamins all come in brown bottles (see! you LEARN STUFF reading my blog).

I hauled out my p-chem book and did my best..pored over a dozen papers, thought about sp3 orbitals for the first time in more than a decade...put the pieces together, looked at it all, and asked myself: when I get to the end of this presentation, WHAT SMART QUESTION WILL JANE HIGDON ASK? And - I figured it out. And I rehearsed the answer. And wouldn't you know it - I was right...and surprised the heck out of Dr. Leklem, and got an A in the course. So when I say that Jane made the people around her smarter, I'm speaking from personal experience.

Jane went on to get her PhD in human nutrition and run the micronutrient information center at the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU. Instead of a PhD, I got a divorce, a "real" job, and a move to Portland.

Jane died on May 31, 2006. She was riding her bike in a paceline on a routine training ride and was struck by a truck on a rural road in the valley. Four years ago Monday. She was 47 years old.

Every once in a while, people ask me why I'm not afraid to race RAAM, isn't it too dangerous, what about all the traffic....Here's the thing: cyclists are always vulnerable out on the road. Any time, any place, I could crash or be hit and be killed outright or catastrophically injured. So far, I've been lucky. If my luck ever does run out, I'm sure I'll have regrets for things left undone - but RAAM won't be one of them.

There's a foundation that's been set up to honor Jane's commitment to athletic mentoring, especially of young women and girls. You can read about it here:

I thought about Jane out of the blue when I set up the t-shirt contest on my blog: it hit me like a ton of bricks that Jane would've figured this one out right away. Started in the fall...250,000...ultraendurance cycling...she'd chide me for being a little short, probably, but she'd figure it out, and she'd be sure. Jane was like that.

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