Penny Woodbury used to see friend Mark Clements out training in their Draper neighborhood for the St. George Marathon. They'd chat for a minute, then he'd be on his way.
He ran a marathon exactly one time, in October 2005. Just two weeks later, he was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer and died within about 15 months.
When this year's marathon kicks off on Saturday, though, Clements will be there, on the shirts and in the hearts of more than a dozen friends many of whom didn't know each other, but all of whom loved Mark.
Most of them have never attempted a marathon before, but they plan to run as a team in his memory. And as they run, they hope to raise money and awareness of cholangiocarcinoma, which took their friend one month after he turned 40.
Since his death in January, his wife, Marianne Clements, has received dozens of personal e-mails and letters and online comments in the guestbook on the Web page that marks his life and updates friends on how the family is doing (www.clements6.com). She has learned, she said, that her husband didn't just mean the world to her. "It never ceases to amaze me how many loved what he did and who he was."
There's the note from the judge before whom Clements, an attorney practicing corporate law, sometimes appeared, for instance. And notes from friends and former classmates, and even a woman from the neighborhood who recognized Marianne in the store one day and wanted to express her sympathy, although they'd never actually met.
Woodbury and her husband, Spencer, came up with the idea for the marathon run, a gift to honor Clements and his young family. He and Marianne have four children: Patrick, now 17; Chase, 14; Tessa, 8; and Lucas, who was born a month after the diagnosis, two years ago.
The family plans to be in St. George to cheer on the runners, Marianne said. Although she knew that Mark was well loved, she said it stuns her that people would actually come up with a memorial that takes so much work.
"It's really touching to me that they would go to the effort and train like this," she said. "The marathon is not easy. It takes a lot of time and sacrifice. And they're not just doing their own hard physical body work, but they're also trying to raise money for the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation, which is in its infancy."
When he was diagnosed, none of his extended family had ever heard of the cancer. And when they went online to learn more, they didn't find much. Mark's sister and her husband created the Web site and foundation to give others like Mark a place to learn about the disease and talk to each other about the treatments and challenges and just "rally together," Marianne said.
Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare liver cancer that primarily affects the biliary system, although Clements didn't have trouble with his bile ducts. By the time it was discovered, his cancer had metastasized and grown. He had large tumors in his liver, which was terribly painful and put great pressure on the organ's outer membrane. He tried chemotherapy, not because it was expected to save him but for the time it would buy him.
"When he was diagnosed, he was given three to six months to live. But he lived almost a year and a half. There were things he wanted to see happen before he died. And they all happened," said Woodbury.He welcomed his youngest son to the world and saw his only daughter baptized, she said. And he took every opportunity to love those around him.