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Amy Donaldson: Mapleton mom finds closure, inspiration in running for cousin's husband

Published: Sunday, July 6 2014 7:50 p.m. MDT

Christy Marshall and her oldest son, Trey, 11, running the 2013 Star Valley Half Marathon. Marshall ran the race to honor her cousin's husband, Jeremy Kunz, for whom the event was created, and her son, who has severe brain damage from a premature birth.

Courtesy Christy Marshall

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Christy Marshall never got to say goodbye to Jeremy Kunz.

The Mapleton mother of three was out of the country when the dynamic man who married her cousin and befriended her brother was killed by a drunk driver.

The news that Kunz had been killed while participating in the Ragnar Relay’s Las Vegas relay race in October 2009 came in an email from her mother when she and her husband were in Hong Kong on a business trip.

Instead of gathering with friends and family to say goodbye to the 33-year-old Kamas father of three small children, Marshall sat alone at a keyboard desperate to understand how such a bright and loving light could be gone from their lives. For her, the funeral gathering was a necessary part of showing her love — both to the one lost and to those left behind.

“For me, when people pass, the funeral brings a lot of closure,” Marshall said.

In a blog she wrote earlier this year, Marshall explained why missing the funeral continued to cause her pain, long after Kunz’s passing.

“We were not able to be back in time for the funeral, and I felt bad,” she wrote in January. “I wanted to be there to support Min (Jeremy’s wife), and I also knew that the funeral is what gives me closure and helps me deal. So for a couple of years, I have just felt empty inside when it came to Jeremy’s death. Something was missing, something was wrong. I don’t really know how to explain it.”

And it wasn’t until April 2013 that she really tried to explain it. That’s when she ran her first 5K — a fundraiser for her cousin who is battling multiple sclerosis.

Before that race, Marshall had never run except for what she calls “workouts to lose baby weight.” It was certainly not something she saw herself doing for any other reason.

At some point, she doesn’t remember exactly when, Marshall decided that she wanted to run the race created to honor Kunz’s memory — the Star Valley Half Marathon in July of 2013. Kunz didn’t just love running, he loved to share that joy with anyone and everyone in his life. While some see distance running as the ultimate individual challenge, Kunz saw it as something to share with those he loved most.

It’s one of the reasons he loved the Ragnar Relays. The pain of the nearly 200-mile race was made easier, even enjoyable, with the support of one’s teammates. The half-marathon, held every year in July on the weekend closest to Jeremy’s birthday in the scenic Wyoming valley where he grew up, doesn’t just honor Kunz’s love of running or the outdoors. It also honors his generous spirit as his family has chosen to donate any proceeds from the race to a needy family.

This year the race, in its fourth running, falls on Jeremy’s birthday, July 12, and will benefit 6-year-old Evie Olenslager, a Star Valley girl battling cancer.

And while Marshall admires all the reasons for the race’s existence, she had her own reasons for deciding she could cover 13.1 miles on foot.

She wanted to honor Jeremy while finding some closure for herself. She could support his family in honoring his life with an effort that focused on the best he offered the world. And she could also offer her oldest son, Trey, an experience that he will never have on his own.

Trey Marshall was born at 31 weeks and spent three months in the NICU. He had severe brain damage that affects every aspect of his life. He’s confined to a wheelchair, unable to talk or do much of anything for himself.

“It’s almost like an infant level,” she said of the oldest of her three children. “He communicates with us with noises, just different sounds or crying. So I didn’t really ask him. I just said, ‘Trey, let’s do this race!’”

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