For Tewksbury’s Gina Utegg, life has been filled with challenges. A mom in her mid-40s, Utegg has already faced traumatic brain injury (T.B.I.), post traumatic stress disorder and breast cancer.
What Utegg has never done, however, is give up.
An inspiration to countless numbers of people fighting both TBI as well as cancer, Utegg has spent the past 11 years of her life reinventing herself and proving that no one can tell her that “she can’t!”
In 2001, Utegg was involved in an automobile accident with an alleged drunk driver. The accident left her with traumatic brain injury as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, but she survived and, in the long run, that was all that truly mattered.
The mom of a 2-year-old baby as well as a successful member of the pharmaceutical industry, Utegg was quickly thrown into what she could only describe as, “a bit of a dark period.”
“If you were to hurt any part of me, hurting my brain was the worst,” explained Utegg. Unable to even hold her own daughter, Utegg had a long road of recovery ahead. That, however, didn’t stop her and it wasn’t long before Utegg was well on her way to re-learning everything from walking to talking.
She was, however, told that she would never ride a two-wheel bicycle again and that was a reality that Utegg simply was not ready to face.
An enormous part of Utegg’s recovery centered on biking and one of her first steps was to begin riding a trike. That, however, didn’t last long and well before her doctors and therapists suggested it, Utegg was on her first two-wheel recumbent bike.
“I went to two wheels on my own,” explained Utegg. “I’m sort of pushy that way.”
That didn’t mean, however, that Utegg was willing to be reckless. Armed with her daughter’s hockey equipment, she got on her bike making sure that everything from her brain to her teeth were well protected.
“I rode around like that for a couple of months,” said Utegg. “I slowly started taking equipment off.”
Eventually, Utegg fought her way back to her career, but a second injury forced her out of the workplace.
“Yes, my life changed,” she said. “That does not mean I’m going to have a crying fest.”
Utegg continued to recover, got stronger and, at the same time, discovered that her bike was a key to helping others with disabilities. She was no longer able to work, but she came to terms with the loss and, once again, set out on a new path.
"It was a blow, but I was proud of what I had accomplished and had to remember that I had done a lot,” she said. “I wanted to show others people with disabilities that they could succeed and, at the same time, I wanted to be a role model mom.”
Utegg began to raise money for various charities and, along with her husband, Mike, and daughter, Rachael, she was, once again, ready to make a difference. “Each ending is a new beginning,” said Utegg. “You take that and you make whatever you want with it.”
It wasn’t long, however, before Utegg was facing yet another challenge. In 2009, Utegg was diagnosed with breast cancer and embarked on another long journey toward recovery.
“That year, I really grew as a person,” explained Utegg. “I learned to focus on things in life that really matter to me like my family, my friends, things that I like to do and, of course, crazy sports.”
On Oct. 5, 2009, Utegg “graduated” from radiation and was, once again, setting goals for herself. Her focus turned to “The Face of America Ride” and on April 16, 2010, she embarked on the two day ride from Washington DC to Gettysburg, PA.
“It was the best two days of my life,” recalled Utegg. “I met other disabled people and we had a chance to cheer each other on.”
These days Utegg is training for her first Pan Mass Challenge.
“It's 200 miles in two days, but I’m up for the challenge,” Utegg commented. “After all, who wouldn’t be up for the challenge with all the good it’s doing for people?”
Thanks to a mild winter, Utegg has had plenty of opportunities to ride and both she and her yellow recumbent bike are a familiar site around town.
“I need to be fit enough to complete the ride. That is a feat in itself. You see, I am approximately two years ‘cancer-free’ and have cycled myself from obesity to being in my body mass index range. I am proud of those facts,” Utegg explained on her website. “My motivation has been to live longer, be a better person and to help others navigate through their cancer journey. I like the Pan-Mass Challenge, because 100% of the donations go toward finding a cure for cancer.”
Determined to put an end to cancer, Utegg has dedicated herself to this ride and, once again, is living by her motto of “Who Says I can’t?”
“A cure for any cancer is important, and there is a lot of progress. We need more,” she went on. “I am sick of cancer, what it has done to me, my family, and friends. So, I will do the work and training to help anyone, in any way possible. What I need are people like you to donate to, support and sponsor me. Every dollar counts.”
For more information on Gina Utegg, you can visit her website.