An Unbreakable Bond: Rosita and Jackie’s Comeback Story

By Grace McGuire

Rosita Cascudo always shows up to an Achilles Connecticut race with a unique accessory. This includes her bright, patterned leggings and her ten pound oxygen tank backpack, but there has always been one thing, or rather person, she is never without. This is her longtime guide and friend Jackie Owens. 

This dynamic duo was paired together in 2017, and they quickly built a friendship before racing together as athlete and guide.

“We had so much fun together and from the very first time that I met Rosie I said, man, this is going to be a good time,” Owens said about the shopping trip they went on before their first race. 

Five years later, and the women are never apart during a race.

“I just absolutely fell for Rosita. She was so silly and had such a great attitude and worked so hard,” Owens, a special education teacher as well as an Achilles guide said. “So from then on, basically anytime she had a race that she really wanted to participate in, she would reach out through Achilles and if I didn’t have other plans, I would do it with her.”

The next couple years entailed many “adventures” with Rosita’s oxygen tank, as Rosita’s degenerative lung disorder complicated her participation in races. Her oxygen tank weighed a whopping 10 pounds, so Owens would carry it while they both chatted and strolled through their 5K’s. It got to the point that it took the pair two and a half hours to finish the last three mile local race they did before COVID-19 effectively shut them down in early 2020. This was their slowest time yet.

“She was so short of breath, we had to stop and just give her time to breathe several times, and so the race took a really long time,” Owens said. “By the time we got back almost everyone was gone or walking away, and so it was a little bit discouraging.”

It was in moments like these that Cascudo had special appreciation for her guide.

“I always feel that guilt about taking time from the guide and I kept telling her ‘Jackie, if you have to go, you can go. I can go on from here.’ And she said ‘Okay, okay,’ but she stayed until the last minute until I got to the car,” Cascudo said with a little smile.

Photo description: Rosita (pictured left) and Jackie (pictured right) with their medals after the 5K.

The pair parted during the COVID lockdown, but checked up on each other virtually. Rosita’s condition worsened, her 5K’s turning into walks around her backyard until she finally had a lung transplant in December 2020. It has been a long road to recovery, but it is “much better” now, especially as she no longer needs an oxygen tank–a fact she managed to keep secret from Owens. When Owens and Cascudo reunited for the first time since the start of the pandemic on Saturday, June 4 to race at the UCONN Health 5K, it came as quite a surprise. 

“I didn’t see the tank and I was like ‘Where’s the oxygen?!’ and she was like ‘I had a transplant!’” Owens said, disbelief still written on her face. 

Cascudo was more focused on the walk itself, though, as it was her second since the transplant. She “crushed” her goal she set for herself, beating her last race time by 35 minutes. 

“It was a joy to go through the finish line and feel that relief,” Cascudo said. “It was a great time.”

The team already seems set on their next race, though, which will hopefully come later in June.

“This past weekend, well, it was good, it was good. I had to stop and rest, which is something that I need to master and go straight without stopping to rest, that’s one of my goals,” Cascudo said. 

Owens, meanwhile, could not help gloating a little bit. 

“It’s such a huge improvement and I felt like Rosita had more energy than at our last race,” Owens said. “It felt like a fresh start and I was so proud of her for taking that big step forward after such a big surgery and doing it in front of so many people.”

This powerful pair of women with 20 “small” years spanning between them are now collectively 10 pounds lighter and are ready to speed walk to victory.