Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Who I Run For: Mary Bryant, Ed Kukstis, and Bill Cowell

I honored Rylie Cruz on Monday on her birthday and was tempted to just leave it at that. She in her own right is special enough to warrant the whole week as my who I run for. I then got to thinking of how many other people have come forward with their stories and decided to honor three additional in memory people.

The first person on my list is Bill Cowell. When I originally got the donation, I wrote a somewhat generic thank you as I was running in memory of him, but did not know his back story like I know most other people's. After the Hyannis Half, I joined some of my tri teammates for lunch in which I was able to learn more about this man. Bill is the father of my teammate and friend Melissa. When Melissa first joined our team, I was a bit intimidated by her competitive attitude and desire to push herself. We ended up bonding at the Patriot Tri two years ago and I look to her as a mentor. She taught me to push myself, expect success and work hard at what you want. She also taught me some amazing gluten free brands which I buy to this day. Her father fought a 10 year battle with cancer eventually losing the fight. I can't imagine going through treatment for that long of a time with the hopes of overcoming it only to lose in the end. What a strong man her was. Hearing Melissa talk about him at lunch showed me where she got some of her passion for life and strength. I am proud to consider Melissa a friend and will channel some of her energy and his strength on the run.

Ed Kukstis is another person I am running in memory of. Ed passed away in December right around Mr. Snyder's death. I really knew nothing of Ed prior to his decline, but felt I learned quite a bit in that time. Ed is a friend of my friend Mare. Mare and I met last year during a survival weekend in which we got paired up with someone that should not have been there. She and I bonded over that experience which grew into a friendship. This past July she joined the crew on our Harbor Island camping trip and was instantly part of the group. Mare is a genius as she brought bacon for all to win everyone over! Around November I started to see posts pop up on her Facebook about the health status of Ed. As the weeks progressed, the prognosis seemed worse and worse. Finally, on a sad day, the post went up that Ed had passed away. I never met him, but the outpouring from all of his friends was astonishing. The memories shared, the pictures swapped and the love felt gave me hope in humanity. The loss in this tight knit community was apparent and so sad. With love and respect for Mare, his friends and his family, I proudly add him to the list I run for.

The final person to highlight this Wednesday is Mary Bryant. Rewind the tape of Jess' life to Freshman year of college where I met Cathryn. Cathy was living in the basement of our dorm while I was on the third floor. A mutual friend was in her orientation group and introduced us as we had a lot in common. With a group of friends, we volunteered at the local elementary school in an after school program. Cathy's mom was the head of the program and I ended up spending a lot of time with Donna. We lost touch through Sophomore and Junior year, but luck would have it ended up getting reacquainted our Senior year. That bond continued to grow as the years have gone on including some pretty hilarious vacations, book clubs, dinners, long talks, and so much more. As my family lives in California and is Jewish, Cathy's family took me in as their adopted kid for the Christian holidays. For once I was experiencing the thrill of Christmas and all that comes with it. Mary, Cath's grandma, was one of those to always make me feel welcome. We shared laughs and always had such a good time. I was there when her husband died and saw her come out of shell as she learned to be single after so many years. It was this past year that Cathy told me that they took Mary in for complaints of hip pain when they discovered stage 4 cancer. The treatment option was tried, but it was deemed unsuccessful and hospice was planned. The last few months were hard for the family as they watched her decline in a painful way. Mary passed away earlier this year and in a fitting fashion her funeral was on the day of the one big storm this year. This year marks some big lifecycles in their family and it will be so sad to not have Mary there dancing up a storm, telling funny stories and being the social butterfly that she is. I am glad I got the chance to know her over the years and am saddened to be running in memory of her instead of in honor. We will all miss Mary!

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