COPPERTON — Weather conditions for the 23rd annual Nick E. Yengich Memorial & Grandma Gump Fun Run weren't exactly ideal — unless your idea of ideal is 37 degrees with blowing snow and limited visibility.

But Stacy Hanson, for one, wasn't complaining.

"I'm very glad to be here," said Hanson.

He didn't add, "Especially when you consider the alternative," but then he didn't have to.

It's been nearly 10 months now since Hanson was one of nine people shot in Trolley Square by teenager Sulejman Talovic. Five of them died. Four, including Hanson, survived.

"I don't know why I lived and others didn't; I've stopped trying to figure it out," he said, shifting in his wheelchair under a bowery roof in Copperton Park as dozens of runners and walkers zipped up their Gore-Tex and headed out into the slush.

They were running and walking for him. Hanson's medical expenses were this year's major cause for the fund-raising run that was started in 1984 when local defense attorney Ron Yengich wanted to do something to honor the memory of his older brother Nick, who died that year.

Every year since on the first Saturday in December, snow or shine, a deserving need has been identified by Yengich and his subsequent charity-minded partner, Jerry Enniss — the Grandma Gump part of the event title.

No one could argue Hanson's cause isn't deserving. A year ago at this time, he didn't show up in Copperton to run the Yengich 5K — but he could have. He was a fit, active, free-walking man of 53 back then, a condition he held onto until Feb. 12 when he went into Trolley Square to buy his wife, Colleen, a Valentine's Day card and came out unconscious and filled with shotgun pellets.

Injuries to his spinal cord left him partially paralyzed and relegated to the wheelchair he's been riding in ever since.

But that doesn't mean he'll be riding in it forever. Just as shotgun pellets keep oozing out of his body — Colleen collects them and saves them in a bottle — signs of life keep oozing back to his legs. After hundreds of hours of physical therapy, he's now able to move them a little on his own and stand with the aid of braces.

"I don't want to jinx it," he said about walking again. "But yeah, there's a chance."

Hanson said he doesn't think about Trolley Square much unless he's asked about it. What he does think about, a lot, he said, are all the people who have stepped up to help him in the aftermath.

"So many people have done so much," he said, "all the people who wrote letters, the physical therapists, all the phone calls ..."

He looked around as the first few runners staggered into Copperton Park like refugees from the Russian front.

"... People like this."

A private person by nature, Hanson said giving part of his life to the public has taken some getting used to — but it's also opened his eyes to the humanity, and willingness to help, of people he would not have met otherwise.

He'd never talked to Ron Yengich in his life until a few weeks ago when Ron — a longtime friend of Hanson's brother, Tim, a recently retired 3rd District judge — called him on the phone.

Not only did Yengich offer proceeds from the 5K, he also allowed Hanson to choose the color for this year's T-shirts — which accounts for all the bright yellow-green emerging from Bingham Canyon early Saturday afternoon.

The tragedy also opened Hanson's eyes to the selflessness of someone he knew very well prior to Feb. 12: his wife.

"She has been unbelievable," he said. "I'm so glad I married her. I can't believe how lucky I was to meet her.

"Life is to be cherished," said the man in the wheelchair as he rolled away from an event organized so one brother could remember the life of another. "That's something I've learned. Life is a gift and it shouldn't ever be taken for granted."


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.