Amy Donaldson: Running the Ragnar with a special man in mind

Published: Sunday, June 17 2012 9:16 p.m. MDT

Retreads approaches the finish line of the Ragnar Relay at Park City High School in Park City on Saturday, June 16, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

LOGAN —

The man I knew would have blushed, averted his eyes for a moment and then flashed that shy but brilliant smile.

Derek T. Jensen would not have wanted the attention.

He did not need it. He never sought it.

But as one who loved him, I needed to show, even in a small, silly and seemingly insignificant way, that I remembered him. Our friend and former Deseret News colleague was killed while riding his bicycle to work Thursday morning in Anniston, Ala.

So I offered the only tribute I could as I sat in a rented van in the parking lot of a city park in Hyrum, Utah, just a few miles from where Derek attended college at Utah State. I couldn't see the words clearly as tears and fatigue clouded my vision. I scrawled his name across my bib number for the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay and whispered to the wind that my 16 miles would be to honor him.

Most of the more than 13,000 runners who navigated the course along the backside of the Wasatch Range from Logan to Park City had their reasons for participating in the ninth annual event. There is something unique to each of the participants.

For some it is a race.

They compete both as individuals and as teams in an endurance competition that tests them in ways a single-day event cannot. There is something magnificent about seeing what a human body can do under stress — something that inspires us to cheer and admire athletes.

For others it is a celebration.

"For us, what this represents is a good opportunity to spend some time with family and improve our physical fitness without spending money on the doctors," said Corey Thompson of the Loafer Mountain Loafers. "At least until after the race."

He shares a laugh with his teammates and then continues.

"This is our first time this year," he said, still sporting the antlers his team wore throughout the race. "I really enjoyed it, other than that I can't feel my legs. Just getting out there and being part of the community (is the best thing about the race)."

The Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay is a lot like life as the experience is punctuated by pain, laughter, loving, suffering, soothing, helping, being saved, accomplishment, failure and, maybe most of all, connecting with other people. During the 24-hour race, you will have moments where you question your sanity, question your affection for those sleeping next to you in that crowded, smelly van and question your ability to run the number of miles you told your team you would.

It is not simply a physical challenge. It is so difficult, so demanding and so rewarding that it changes you, even if you are unaware of it at the time.

So maybe it was fitting that I received an email from another former colleague near the start of Friday's race remembering Derek. I had been extremely busy with work and out-of-town company when I heard about Derek's death Thursday morning; so while I took a moment with friends to reflect on his life and grieve his passing, I hadn't allowed myself to really sink into the sadness.

But when I read Julie Dockstader Heaps' email, I was transported from that parking lot full of goofy, giggling runners to a dimly-lit gymnasium in 2000.

I was so overwhelmed by her words, I wept despite the stares and questioning looks. I listened to people laugh, watched them high-five and hug, and I cried for Derek, for what he'd miss because he died at 37 instead of 97. I let the tears fall for his wife, who lost her best friend after just 13 years of marriage. But most of all, I wept for his three children (1, 7, and 10 years old) because they will have to rely on the stories of others to really understand what an amazing dad they have.

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