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Jason Olson, Deseret News
Juli Larsen, right, is greeted by other members of the Nicholes family at the finish line of the Running With Angels 5K at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi Saturday. Larsen's family walked the course together.

LEHI — With a bum knee and a weak heart, Juli Larsen was feeling a lot of things at the end of Saturday's Running With Angels 5K: out of breath, sore, fatigued. But she didn't feel at all discouraged, despite coming in next to last.

"It was quite motivational, actually," said Larsen, who lives in Orem. "Every time someone passed me I thought, 'When I do this again, I'm not going to be passed by this many people."'

For Larsen and her family, who walked the course through Thanksgiving Point Gardens together, the race represented a resolution to fight heart disease.

Larsen's immediate family collectively has been through four heart attacks, a heart transplant, seven bypasses and 15 stents. One sibling, whose memory they honored with Saturday's run, died from a heart attack.

"We've had so many problems. Every time someone gets the sniffles, poor Mom thinks it's a heart attack," Larsen said.

The family decided to run the race together, said Alee Blake, Larsen's sister, as a way to push one another to pursue healthier lifestyles.

"I wanted to get into shape, but I needed some motivation," said Blake, who lives in St. George. "I thought if I involved my family maybe I would stick to the goal."

Blake pitched the idea to her family last July at her father's annual "second birthday" party — marking the day of his heart transplant. No one seemed too enthusiastic at the time.

"I was thinking, 'They better have a lot of wheelchairs and ambulances on hand,"' said Dave Larsen, 46, Juli's husband.

But in the end, 14 of them — ranging in age from a 20-month toddler pushed in a stroller to 71-year-old grandma — made the walk together. Several more, hampered by health problems, stood by for moral support.

Their goals were reflected in the motto sprawled across their matching T-shirts: "Strengthening families while lengthening lives."

"Heart disease is genetic in our family," Blake said. "It's definitely genetic, but I don't want it to be a crutch. I want to change the idea that there is nothing we can do about it."

The road to feeling better, she said, starts with exercise and a healthy diet. With the 5K and a heart-healthy breakfast Saturday, the family got a jump-start on both. In recent months — inspired by preparation for the race — the menu at family parties (which are frequent) has changed.

"We eat a lot more salad," said JaNae Nicholes, Larsen and Blake's mother. "It used to be all roast and potatoes."

She was excited about how the 5K brought her family together.

"I think being active will make a lot of difference in our lives," she said. "If you don't have your health, you don't have a whole lot."


E-mail: estuart@desnews.com