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Memory of a little girl motivates Jordans to battle dread disease

Photo Credit: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Bob Jordan makes like a blur on his bike as he trains in his Lake Oswego neighborhood for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii on October 11.

Emily Jordan was a little girl who died of leukemia when she was 5 1/2 years old.

But because a gift she gave her father in 1997 has lived through the years, the memory of her is having greater impact than ever.

Emily’s story was tragic, but Bob and Terry Jordan have transformed their own sorrow into a crusade to end the disease that killed Emily. Their title for the project is simply “Doing it for Emily.”

Events for a fundraiser in her honor begin this Saturday, and there will be a 5K in October. But everything that’s happened leads back to a letter from Emily and an Ironman competition in Hawaii. And, now, the Jordans are returning to the beginning.

“We’re going back to Kona,” Bob said. “We want to raise $100,000 for the National Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as a memorial for our daughter. We’re doing this to fight the very disease that took her away from us.”

“Doing it for Emily is something very different from what we’ve done in the past,” Terry said. “It is something that is bigger than us. This is not just our story. We want to do Doing it for Emily beyond October.”

The eyes of the sports world were quite unexpectedly focused on Bob Jordan in 1997 when he competed in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, the most prestigious Ironman competition in the world. It was not because he was a top contender to win the competition. It was the story of how he made it to the event that made him so compelling. It started while Emily was dying of leukemia.

“We wanted Emily to have an experimental bone marrow transplant,” Bob said. “We moved to Los Angeles so she could get it at the UCLA Medical Center. Emily asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told her, ‘I want you to get well and come home.’ She said the doctors weren’t going to let her do that. She asked, ‘What else can I give you?’ I told her, ‘I always wanted to be in the Ironman in Hawaii.’ I had entered the lottery for 10 years trying to get picked, but it never happened.”

That is where he left it. On April 18, the Jordans decided to have Emily placed in a drug induced coma in the intensive care unit as a last-ditch effort to save her life. April 24 was Bob’s birthday. At first it seemed it would be just another day of painful waiting in Emily’s hospital room.

“We didn’t have a lot to celebrate,” Bob said.

But all of a sudden he did. A surprise birthday party broke out. However, Bob’s birthday surprise was about to get much bigger.

“There was a knock at the door and this guy with perfect hair walked in,” Bob said. “He was a reporter from a TV station. He asked, ‘Is Bob Jordan here?’ I told him no.”

Although his birthday had turned out much better than he anticipated, Bob was still in no mood to jive with the media. Then things changed drastically.

“He had my lottery slot for the Ironman,” Bob said, “and he asked me if I knew about my daughter’s letter. Tears were welling in my eyes.”

Emily’s letter said: “Please pick my dad to be in the Iron Man. If not, he’ll still be an Iron Man to me.”

Bob would finally be going to Hawaii, but his joy was short lived. On April 29, Emily died.

After that, the Jordans did the best they could to live. “We were a sorry sight,” Bob said. But, they couldn’t just give up. They had a newborn son named Timothy to raise, and Bob was a high-ranking FBI officer.

Still, he was on his way to the Ironman Hawaii. He had five months to train for it, and to even finish the race he had to become incomparably fit and strong in body and spirit. The Ironman Hawaii is the “Holy Grail” of triathlons, and it consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and concludes with a 26.2-mile run, the exact equivalent of a marathon.

Yet Emily’s letter was an incredible motivation for Bob, and he also had one more great surprise coming.

“The Ironman people asked to feature my story,” he said. “I said no. Losing my 5-year-old daughter was too sensitive. NBC sent a producer named Al Szymanski (who was fortunate to be a Jersey guy like Bob) who wouldn’t take no for an answer. But I was worried I would get caught up in a story that I would have no control over.”

But as Bob is fond of observing, his wife sees things from a higher perspective.

“Al called Terry about it, and she had a view of the story from 30,000 feet,” he said. “She said it was a good story and that I should look into it.”

“To Bob’s credit he turned his view around,” Terry said.

At Kona Island, Bob knew he was in for a new kind of experience when a gold cap was plunked on his head so he could easily be seen among 1,500 triathletes in the chaotic scene at the starting line.

“I was told, ‘You are a VIP!’” Bob said. “There was a moped and motorcycle there and helicopters and kayaks,” he said. “I was trailed from water to bike to running. I told myself ‘I WILL finish.’ And I did.”

When he crossed the finish line with a massive smile of mission accomplished on his face, Terry was waiting for him with baby Tim in her arms.

That seemed like enough of a storybook ending for the Jordans, but it was only the beginning. In December, NBC broadcast a news program on the 1997 Ironman Hawaii, which included the segment on Emily’s letter. The Jordans’ lives would never be the same.

“Ten minutes into the show Terry and I were in tears,” Bob said.

In the 92-minute program the part on the Jordan family was just 12 minutes, but it made a huge impression on everyone who saw it. The show was watched by triple the audience that watched the previous year’s program about Ironman Hawaii and went on to win three Emmy awards.

The most unusual thing about this program was that viewers never forgot it. Ever.

Eight months after the show, when Bob was at the FBI office in Newark, NJ., “People came up to me and broke down in tears,” he said. “They asked, ‘Are you Emily’s dad?’ Two weeks ago a Mexican man asked me the same thing.”

Terry receives the same recognition that combines surprise, delight and heartbreak: “You’re Emily’s mom!”

Countless events have involved “Emily’s Dad” and “Emily’s Mom.” A Northern California Iron Man team asked to race in honor of Emily. Bob and Terry were guest speakers at a double marathon in Ireland in 2001.

And Terry, a gifted public speaker, became a super fundraiser for the Leukemia Society. At a recent banquet to honor the top fundraisers, the emcee recognized them by asking them to stand up for each fundraising goal they had achieved. First, who had raised $10,000, then $20,000 and so on. Terry popped up 25 times. She has raised $250,000 dollars over the past 17 years.

All of that seems to have been just a preparation for this year. The Leukemia Society received three slots for the 2014 Iron Man Hawaii and unanimously voted to give one of the precious places to Bob. Team Jordan is heading back to Kona, planning to arrive with $100,000 to give to the Leukemia Society. Bob, Terry and Tim Jordan have started a website named that lists the various ways people can contribute to this project.

“In 1996, there was no support for us,” Terry said. “We have done 40 events for the Leukemia Society over the past 17 years in order to change that. One hundred percent of the $100,000 will go to the Leukemia Society.”

One man recently walked up to Terry, handed her a check for $5,000, and told her, “I want to be on your Pit Crew,” one of their fundraisers.

“Everything is bringing in money,” Terry said. “A little here, a little there. It’s all coming in.”

For all the progress in the Jordans’ campaign to end what Terry calls “The Emperor of All Maladies,” everybody knows who deserves the most credit. Emily.

The series of events for Doing it for Emily begin on Saturday with a luau that will feature Hawaiian food, music and an auction. There will also be a drawing for membership in the Pit Crew. On Oct. 5, the inaugural Emily 5K will be held at Mary S. Young Park in West Linn. Information on all events can be found on The website features a reproduction of the letter Emily wrote that got her father into Iron Man Hawaii.

Team Jordan will be delivering $100,000 to the Leukemia Society in Hawaii. From the left are mom Terry, son Tim and dad Bob.

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