Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Relaying Sadness

I didn’t know Jeremy Kunz. I never met him, nor any of his Ragnar Relay teammates. Maybe the Desert Tortoises and Team Wannabes crossed paths somewhere out in the Valley of Fire State Park – it’s really tough to say.

But his death really hit hard nevertheless.

Jeremy was the runner who died during the Ragnar Relay in Henderson, Nev., the unfortunate victim of an alleged drunk driver. It’s still unclear whether the driver was intoxicated, though he is suspected of driving while drunk and has been charged with, among other things, DUI with death. The pathetic excuse of a human who killed Jeremy got out of his car and ran away from what he’d done only to get apprehended by police minutes later.

Jeremy’s loss is quite saddening. It’s not just because he died while running – such deaths sadly are a somewhat common occurrence. Just two weeks ago, during our weekly Loma Linda Lopers meeting, a fellow Loper who is a California Highway Patrol officer talked to the group about safety and how Runner vs. Automobile confrontations are sad but common situations. And then over the weekend, a local jogger died after he was hit by a drunk driver early in the morning.

What really has gotten to me, though, and really eats away at me is that Jeremy’s life was taken away from him while he was doing something exciting, something that he apparently loved doing, something I quickly became infatuated with. Ragnar Relay Las Vegas was his third such event, as he’d twice ran the Wasatch Back relay in his native Utah. His team in the Las Vegas relay was filled with family members, including his wife Melinda.

Jeremy was mowed down while helping out his teammates. He wasn’t running at the time of his death, as he was standing on the side of the road helping cheer on and keep his teammates hydrated.

It really could have been many of the 2,400 participants. After all, many of us were out there on the course when we didn't need to be, cheering on our teammates and other runners, handing out water, helping those on the road.

If I learned one thing from Ragnar Relay participants from other teams, it was the spirit of camaraderie, of kinship. I talked to some members of other teams, didn’t really get to know anyone outside of the Desert Tortoises, but still felt a bond, a connection with other groups, with other runners. Sure, it was a race, and sure, you want to challenge and test yourself. But we were all there for the same thing, to participate in what should have been a memorable experience, the kind that can mold and shape your life.

Quite often during our time out there, we were cheered on by other teams and other runners, even those who passed us by during our respective legs. It was contagious. I found myself clapping for and cheering on runners who passed by me, even though I had no idea who they were.

"Good job runner!" and "Almost there, you got this!" were things I blurted out often, and I'd either get a "thanks" or a thumbs up in return. Encouragement is necessary during races, but in particular during something as challenging as the Ragnar Relay.

The relay race really was a unique experience in terms of other races I've ran in. Usually, I'm trying to do something for myself, to either set a new PR or to finish a certain distance.

Finishing the relay race really did give me a sense of what it means to be on a team, of pushing yourself to the limit, of giving everything you’ve got for the greater good. I suspect Jeremy learned that during his previous relay races, and that that was the reason why he ran more than one.

So when I heard of the accident, when I think back now about what happened, I am still choked up. I can’t help but shed tears of sadness for a man I never knew, a man I never met.

On Ragnar Relay’s Facebook page, one commenter summed it up perfectly:

“You only beat us to the next exchange, brother.”

So true.


5thsister said...

Thank you, Luis, for this moving and thoughtful post. May Jeremy live on in the precious memories of his family and in the spirit and love he generated among his team and other Ragnar participants.

God speed, Jeremy!

Willoughby said...

What a terrible shame. My heart goes out to his family, friends and teammates.

ChristineM said...

How horrible! My heart goes out to Jeremy's family, friends and anyone touched by this tragedy. Accidents will always happen, but anything involving drunk driving, texting while driving, etc's just so senseless.

Tattoos and Teething Rings said...

What a tragedy, my thoughts are with his family. It just shows that you truly aren't guaranteed anything in life, so you must live every moment to the fullest.

Lissaloo said...

That is so sad, Christine said it very well. An irresponsible person causing such pain and sadness.

Angie Eats Peace said...

This is such a tragic story :(

thrasherswife said...

My heart breaks...

Holly said...

That is tragic and so sad...and senseless. Such a loss. My thoughts and prayer are with his family and friends.