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A Runner’s Funeral

Posted by: on November, 15 2013

Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Jason Anderson

This powerful photo says so much about Jim Kelley, and it says even more about running.

My friend Jim died this month while out on a run, doing one of his favorite things in the world. A car struck him as he was crossing the street.funeral run

Jim was amazing and selfless. He placed in the top three in his age group 90 percent of the time. He loved to run, more than anybody I know, whether by himself or supporting others.

He was at all the races, cheering everybody on, always running somebody in. He would often sacrifice his own goals and run a race with somebody so they could meet their goal. If he were running for himself, he could have gone a lot faster.

He was the first guy to send an e-mail of congratulations after a race, telling you that you did great. Jim enjoyed running, but he enjoyed helping others run even more.

That’s what I see when I look at this photo of runners behind Jim’s hearse, escorting him to the cemetery.

Jim wasn’t a dressy guy. He loved jeans and T-shirts. Teri, Jim’s wife of more than 30 years, told everybody to come to his funeral dressed in their running clothes. That’s how Jim would be buried, she said. Come in your tights and your running shorts. Wear your running shoes.

I was one of Jim’s pallbearers. When it was time to go to the cemetery, the funeral director had this idea. The cemetery was only a mile away, he said to us. Instead of vehicles following behind, would we want to honor Jim by running behind the hearse?

It was a genius idea.

On Wednesdays, when the Grand Rapids Running Club ran together, we spent the first two miles chatting as we ran. We laughed and talked about baseball and politics. Then, someone would decide to push the pace, and things would change.

As we ran behind Jim’s hearse, I was in front and all I could hear was people laughing and chatting.

It was Jim’s last group run. It was exactly the way he would have wanted it, everybody enjoying the camaraderie. He would have thought it was the coolest thing on the planet.

As runners, we can carry on not just the love Jim had for running, but the spirit in which he did it. When anyone new came to the running group, Jim was the first one to welcome them. He made them feel part of the team. Here were all these people who hardly knew you, but they wrapped their arms around you.

Jim was passionate about hitting his goals, but he would sacrifice his own workout to help someone else reach their goal.

He would give the same encouragement to someone who could only run a half-mile as he would to someone who could run a 50-miler.

He’d encourage running not just for running, but for the bonds you form, the friends you make. That’s the best thing about running.

You can see all of this in the photo of runners following Jim’s hearse to the cemetery. It shows loyalty to a brother who just went down. It reminds me of a Harley gang or the military. Whether you’re an elite, Olympic runner or the last person across the finish line, there’s a bond.

Run in peace, Jim. (Jim didn’t take rest days.)