By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) - American high jump champion Chaunte Lowe is fuelled by a desire to show people that they can overcome any challenge as she trains for her fifth Olympic Games after being diagnosed with cancer last year.
The 36-year-old was diagnosed in June with an aggressive form of breast cancer that required a double mastectomy and five months of gruelling chemotherapy sessions.
The treatments "destroyed every cell" in her body but she continued to train and has since bounced back in ways she never thought possible.
"Surprisingly, I feel great," Lowe told Reuters from her home in Orlando.
"I'm to the point where I'm running times that I haven't run in years. I'm able to lift weights that I haven't lifted in a long time.
"I'm starting to feel like myself."
Lowe, an Olympic bronze medallist in 2008 who holds the outdoor and indoor U.S. records for women's high jump, said she hopes her journey will inspire others facing adversity.
"When I train every day, it's not about myself," she said.
"It's about letting women know that you can go through some tough dirt and still be able to pursue your goals.
"We're resilient. That's what I hope women see when they see me compete for the U.S. team."
Lowe said she saved her own life by discovering the breast cancer during a self-exam and hopes to spread the message that women should routinely check themselves and seek help if they discover anything suspicious.
Going through chemotherapy made her skin sensitive and she has subsequently partnered with skin care company Olay.
UPSIDE TO OLYMPIC DELAY
Lowe may be the rarest of things -- an Olympic athlete who stands to benefit from the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Games, which were pushed back to the summer of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There's no doubt about it," she said when asked if the new timeline improves her chances of once again making Team USA.
"But then at the same time you have to stay focused that much longer."
With gyms closed and tracks locked up, Lowe has been forced to take training matters into her own hands.
She recently went to a local hardware store and is now building a high jump apron for her back yard, something she never thought she would be doing.
"Yes, there will definitely be an Instagram," the social media savvy Lowe said about the pending debut of her home-made equipment.
"Never in a million years did I think this would be happening but I have to consider my health and wellbeing even after (lockdown orders are lifted)," she said.
"I need to keep my immune system as healthy as it can be and I will probably have to stay home more than I'm used to when it comes to my training."
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Davis)