<strong>PARK CITY—</strong> After running 197.5 miles in a respectable time of 31 hours and 42 minutes, Team Jen crossed the finish line of the Ragnar Relay’s Wasatch Back.
Ken and Jackie Thompson, of Smithfield, started the team three years ago after losing their daughter, Jen, whose name the team bares. Along with 22 other family members, the Thompsons run every year in loving memory of Jen.
“As a mother, when you lose a child, it hurts every day of your life,” Jackie said. “You think about her every day of your life, but you feel like other people forget her. I thought this was something that we could do to remember Jen.”
Because of the bond that exists within this family, Jen’s sister, Haley Cowdin, insisted on running despite being five months pregnant. She was only able to do two of her three assigned legs before an emergency trip to the hospital because of dehydration – however, she and the baby are both doing well.
Day one of the relay saw the family put forth a tremendous effort beginning at 5:30 a.m. Friday. Despite the loss of Haley and her husband, as well as the chilly temperatures in the morning and the hot, windy conditions for the rest of the day, Team Jen finished leg 21 (out of 36) around 11 p.m.
Unfortunately for the intrepid runners, the Ragnar Relay series doesn’t stop for anything. For Alyssa Draper, the 22nd leg began immediately and continued on into the darkness of Saturday morning by aid of a headlamp and occasional street lights.
As light began to shine over the eastern horizon around 4 a.m., 10 legs remained as Tori Meacham raced by the Jordanelle Reservoir where Tara Jensen took over and led Team Jen down into the Heber Valley.
The physical toll wore on everyone, with it being particularly evident at the end of leg 31, as Ken – who will be 61 next week – stumbled across the line.
Being so close to the finish gave the remaining runners the fortitude needed to pass the toughest test of the race – Ragnar Hill. In two short legs which total just 8.4 miles, the course climbs more than 3100 vertical feet in a test of sheer willpower.
The legs were handled by Shane and Tori Meacham, who refused to let the mountains beat them.
Finally, at 1:12 p.m. Saturday afternoon, Jen Ballard entered the football stadium at Park City High School at the end of the final 7.2 mile leg. She was joined by her teammates and family as they crossed the finish line together, smiles evident from anywhere in the stands.
In the end, it didn’t matter Team Jen wasn’t the fastest, but they certainly weren’t the slowest. For them, finishing in the face of adversity was good enough. Given their cause and love for each other, they were winners before the race even began.