Her friends called her "Jill the Pill," a humorous tribute to her single-minded focus in pursuit of her goals. But when they talk seriously, they'll tell you that Jill Costello was the bravest person they've ever known.

Also the smartest. And the funniest. And the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful person, too. Jill was the coxswain who willed the 2010 Cal women's crew to victory in the Pac 12 championships and a close second in the NCAAs. Her coach, Dave O'Neill, called her "the toughest competitor I've ever coached" and asked her to be godmother to his son, Dash.

She was almost perfect, except for one flaw: She was mortal. A few weeks after the NCAAs she achieved her dream of making it to graduation. A few weeks after that she was dead from lung cancer.

Like Joe Roth 40 years before her, she gallantly fought the disease throughout her senior year, never complaining and never giving up, either.

"She'd go from chemo directly to practice or class," says her teammate, Erica Bellis. "How many other people would do that?"

She not only fought lung cancer for her own sake, she fought it for all the other victims, too. The sad fact is that even though lung cancer is the number-one cancer killer, the survival rate hasn't improved in more than 40 years. It's still stuck at 16 percent.


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Why? Because of the stigma. People assume the victims brought it on themselves, so the funding for research is ridiculously low. Never mind that many people with lung cancer, like Jill or comedian Andy Kaufman, never smoked in their lives. In fact, one out of every five female lung cancer patients are nonsmokers. And even for people who do smoke, death from lung cancer is an awfully stiff price to pay.

Does this make you angry? Good. It made Jill angry, too. And before she died, she decided to do something about it. She founded an organization called Jill's Legacy to raise money for lung cancer research. The main fundraiser is an annual Jog For Jill on the Cal campus. Last year's jog -- which attracted 1,200 runners, joggers, walkers and strollers -- raised more than $62,000. All told, Jill's Legacy has raised more than half a million dollars.

Since her death, Jill's Legacy has been run by her teammates and her sorority sisters in Kappa Kapp Gamma. And it's no longer limited to the Cal campus. There have been Jogs For Jill at 12 different colleges, each of them organized by local Kappa chapters or members of that college's crew.

This year's Jog For Jill at Cal will be held March 16 at Kroeber Fountain, at the corner of College and Bancroft. The starting gun will go off at noon, and the runners will wend their way on a 5K course around the campus before meeting again at Kroeber Fountain at 1 p.m. for a celebration that is expected to last most of the afternoon.

The center of attention, as he has been at every Jog For Jill, will be Jill's Maltese terrier -- named Jack, of course -- whom she adopted in the last months of her life so her parents could have something she loved to console them.

I'll be there. And, in a very real sense, so will Jill.

CHAMBER CHORUS: On a much happier note, "shchastlyvoi dorohy!" (that's Ukranian for "Bon Voyage") to conductor Marika Kuzma and the UC Chamber Chorus, who have been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York on March 21.

But before they go, they're going to perform a free lunchtime send-off concert Wednesday at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, singing colorful a cappella pieces by Berkeley composers Randall Thompson, Trevor Weston, Robin Estrada, Joaquin Nin-Culmel, Jorge Liderman and Richard Felciano, as well as out-of-towners Lesia Dychko and Eric Whitacre.

If you missed the Chamber Chorus's outstanding performance of Handel's "Messiah" (in collaboration with the University Chorus) last December, here's another chance to get turned on to something truly special. They're that good.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.