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!’”
Marshall knew it would be difficult, and some intermittent rain at the end made it even more difficult. But Kunz’s memory, her love for his family and her commitment to her son kept her moving.
“During the race I was just focused on, ‘Just keep going,'” she said. “We’re doing this. We’re going to finish.”
Her husband met her at several places along the scenic course and offered to take her son, which would have made the remainder of the race easier.
But Marshall was determined to run every step of Jeremy's race with 11-year-old Trey for “two people who could not.”
Every mile was marked with a picture of Kunz. Some were of him alone; others were snapshots of him with his family. Nearly all of them were pictures of him running or hiking or enjoying the outdoors in some way. Marshall touched each picture and kissed her son’s head.
“It was very emotional for me,” Marshall said of seeing the pictures each mile. “Yet, it also gave me another reason to finish.”
On her blog she wrote about how difficult the race became.
“It was super hard for me to keep going,” she wrote. “I could feel myself receiving that closure and comfort that I had been hoping for in regards to Jeremy’s death.”
The downpour made a painful undertaking even more uncomfortable. Wet and exhausted, Marshall crossed the finish line pushing her 50-pounds son in a 30-pound stroller in just a little more than three hours.
She was elated.
And she was inspired.
Which, she realized, is really what Jeremy Kunz did in his short life. He inspired people to live better and love more.
“Never in my life would I have thought I would complete a half-marathon,” she wrote. "Through his love of running, he has gotten a lot of us out running who otherwise would not.”
Marshall said she was inspired to see what she might be able to do on her own with better training. So the self-described non-runner is signed up for this weekend’s race.
She said she’s not surprised that the community has embraced the race. In fact, it’s an event that captures beautifully what his life was about, including the desire to conquer challenges, support others, and reach out to those who are suffering. It is the perfect metaphor for the life of Jeremy Bart Kunz.
“People were so drawn to Jeremy,” she said. “He was so personable, so caring about everyone he met.”
And how would the man she tried to honor with last year’s run feel about her efforts?
“I know he would be really proud,” she said of how Kunz would feel about her tribute. “He would be really happy. He was always happy about everything anyway, but he would think it was super neat that I got to do that with Trey.”
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