After James Owens' brain cancer was diagnosed, he did all he could to survive, and worked hard to give others a message of hope.

Owens, 46, who rode as a member of a relay team that crossed the nation to help fight the disease, died of cancer Jan. 4 at his home in Edina.

Owens, a mechanical engineer and a leader in his family's heating, cooling and ventilation business, was one of 20 bicyclists who rode from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in eight days in 2004, often joined by famed bicycle racer Lance Armstrong in the Tour of Hope.

When his squad of five riders wasn't riding, the members were giving speeches and interviews. Owens, one of 1,200 applicants for the tour, gave more than hope to his listeners.

"He was such a great advocate for cancer survivorship," encouraging cancer victims to enroll in clinical trials, said his brother, John of Edina.

In 1998, Owens was a 36-year-old triathlete, "running like I was in my 20s," he said in the Aug. 17, 2004, Star Tribune.

He was training for a marathon. After one of his workouts, he collapsed in a seizure. He had a tumor on his brain. A dangerous surgery was performed, but the tumor could not be removed.

He married six months after his initial diagnosis.

Over the years, he suffered serious setbacks, but new therapies helped. For 10 years, he participated in clinical trials.

In 2002, things were not going well, and he tried yet another treatment. Five days after completing the new treatment, he competed in the City of Lakes Loppet, the 35-kilometer Minneapolis cross-country ski race.

"I thought I was dreaming," he later told the Star Tribune.

Chris Brewer, a leader at the Lance Armstrong Foundation, said Owens raised tens of thousands of dollars in the fight against cancer.

"He was walking testimony to the importance of cancer research," said Brewer. "Jim gave a message of hope to everyone he spoke to."

"He just had a fire in his eyes that would light up a room."

On the 2004 tour, he was a "quiet leader," said his squad mate, Darren Mullen of Wichita, Kan.

On the podium or before television cameras, "he made you feel a part of his story," said Mullen. "He was a very moving speaker."

He graduated in 1981 from Blake High School, where he was captain of the swim team.

He was a swimmer for Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.

In 1993, he earned an MBA from Northwestern University.

After college, he worked as an engineer in San Francisco and swam from Alcatraz Island in a triathlon.

Since 1994, he had worked at Owens Companies in Bloomington, a business founded by his father, Robert, in 1957. He was vice president, and led the company's marketing.

He received several awards, including the Triumph Award from the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Humanitarian Award from Bucknell University.

In addition to John, he is survived by his wife, Barb of Edina; son, Max of Edina; mother, Carol Owens of Wayzata; his other brother, Tom of Minneapolis; sisters, Mary Neal of Minneapolis, Nancy Fraser of Orono and Catherine Duncan of Minneapolis;

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today in Normandale Lutheran Church, 6100 Normandale Road, Edina.

Visitation will be held at 10 a.m. in the church.