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Road to recovery makes Birkie stop

Thu, Feb  23, 2006 - By John Fauber

[ John Goble says, "Greg O'Gawa is a former Michigan ski racer from Petoskey in the early 1980's.  Many of the racers from that era I am sure remember Greg - he is a good ski racer.  He and his family had a lot to do with helping me out all through my racing career." This article was reprinted with permission from the author from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blogs: ]

Every winter about this time, it seems, there are stories of American Birkebeiner participants who do the race despite huge medical setbacks.

This is Greg Ogawa’s.

In January 2002, Ogawa, 43, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.

He underwent a round of chemotherapy, but the leukemia recurred within a year. He had more chemotherapy and it recurred again.

Two and a half years ago, he got a blood stem cell transplant and has been in remission since.

Ogawa, a former member of the Carleton College (Minnesota) cross-country ski team had skied the Birkie a couple times in the early 1990s.

This year, he and three other members of his college ski team signed up for the Birkie. Ogawa, who now practices as an ophthalmologist in Albuquerque, will do the 23-kilometer Kortelopet.

He said he knows the race will be a challenge.

Because of complications from the transplant, he’s had damage to blood vessels in his shoulders, which makes lifting his arms difficult.

“They work fairly well close to my body,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing classical.”

The transplant also has caused a type of obstructive lung disease, which will make climbing the big hills tough.

“I don’t have nearly the body for this that I once did,” he said. “So just finishing the Kortelopet will be a real accomplishment.”

Ogawa, who is married with two daughters, will ski in the 9th wave. His bib number is 29159.

If you see him on the course, feel free to cheer him on.