SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – “It was the most beautiful thing to see my family fall apart, but falling together.” It’s been seven years since Carmelita Jeter’s family changed forever.
Up until this point in our series on breast cancer, we’ve shared stories of survival. Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone will beat it. Jeter lost a very important role model in her life, and opened up with KOLR10, about how her legacy lives on today.
“When people see me on the track they thought I was Superwoman,” Jeter said.
She is an Olympic Gold medalist and the fastest woman alive. You might also know her as Missouri State University track and field coach. Either way, Carmelita Jeter doesn’t exactly seem human.
“Superwoman cries,” she said. “Superwoman needs a time out. Superwoman has to sit down for a second.”
Coach Jet, as her student-athletes call her, insists the real powers lie elsewhere in the family.
“She had her Masters, she had her own house, she had a nice car, she got her hair done every Friday,” Jeter remembered. “She was like my superhero. I thought, ‘Oh gosh I wanna be like my Aunt Brenda when I grow up.'”
Brenda Washington was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. Nike created pink spikes just for Jeter. Washington was beating it until suddenly the cancer was beating her.
“During my Olympic season, I’m training and my aunt gets very very ill,” Jeter said. “And it goes down to months and then days. And I didn’t even want to train anymore. It was the first time in my life that I was really hurting. I was a tough chick. I lined up and won and got it done. And I was falling apart.”
So Jeter created Team Jet, a group of sidekicks who walked for Washington. On a March morning in 2012, just before a team walk, Coach Jet got a phone call. The phone call. Washington couldn’t beat her nemesis. Breast cancer had killed her.
“And at this time I’m thinking, ‘Okay I need to call the people and tell them we’re not coming,'” Jeter said. “She can’t even do my makeup. Everything’s falling on my face. My cousin calls me and she says, ‘We’re coming to the walk. Everybody said they’re coming.'”
Jeter and her team still cheer for Aunt Brenda on the track today.
“What I do, what keeps me going, is keeping her name going,” Jeter said. “We’re the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference that wears pink to represent our fight against cancer. And I know every time my girls line up in those pink jerseys, she’s smiling.”
It’s in moments like this, Jeter can still hear her too.
“She called me Lita. I could just hear her. Lita – Lita – I know that she’s proud of me,” Jeter added.
With every breath of every race, that’s how the legacy of Brenda Washington lives on.
Jeter and the American Cancer Society want to make sure that our heroes make it to tomorrow. KOLR10 supports the American Cancer Society at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Join us on Oct. 19 at 9 a.m. at Hammons Field Plaza: