Members of the Stetson lacrosse team walked away with some new found friends this past weekend, after crossing the finish line in a local 5K race. Team members took part in Linda’s Run for the Dream 5K Run/Walk in DeLand as volunteers and race participants for a team building exercise but ended up learning a great life lesson in the process.
The team was going their own brisk pace, when they encountered Ken Runge and his family at about the 1.5 mile marker of the 3.1 mile course. Runge, a recent widower and current Parkinson’s Disease sufferer, lost his wife Christine of 50 years this past September after a battle with cancer. He and his dozen or so family members were walking in the 5K to honor her memory but almost didn’t make it to the starting line.
“Our plan was for the family to run in the race, and for me and Dad to walk as long as he could,” said Runge’s son Ken Jr. “The day before the race, he fell in his bedroom and was not sure that he could participate in the race at all.”
But with a good night’s sleep and the memory of his beloved wife on his mind, Ken Sr. mustered enough strength to make it to the race the next morning. With the shooing of the starting gun, Runge and his family were off but because of his age, his condition and the fall he took the day before, the 72-year old began to wonder whether or not he would be able to cross the finish line.
“That all changed when we met Nicole (Moore), Elisabeth (Blackwell), Lindsay (Summers), Sam (Maguire), and Caili (Guilday) at the top of the hill,” Runge’s son explained. “Robin (Collins), Kristen (Collins), Christina (Wittmeier) and the other awesome Stetson lacrosse ladies were sent by our Mom to lift up my Dad and carry him on to the next mile because they cheered him up the hill and instantly injected energy into his spirits!”
Freshman Julia Lozano was volunteering at the race Saturday, and couldn’t help but let out a loud cheer once she saw Runge and her fellow teammates make it up the hill.
“We cheered our hearts out as each individual passed and as it neared the end Mr. Runge, his father, and (their friend) Dorothy made it up the hill to us,” Lozano recalled. “After they passed, my group decided to finish the walk with them rather than leave and go home. Thank goodness we made that choice because we all enjoyed it!”
“Their love, energy and passion for life filled my Dad’s heart and he was inspired to keep going,” Runge Jr. said. “The team all shared stories and laughs with him, and he felt very special. It is hard for him to smile with his Parkinson’s, but he was smiling ear-to-ear as he walked.”
Those laughs and motivational stories carried Runge and his family across the finish line, enabling him to finish the race, but it wasn’t just the elder Runge who was the only one touched by the experience.
“I as well as a few others were overwhelmed and shed a few tears,” Lozano said. “Seeing all of the people at the end cheering so loud and the smile on Mr. Runge's face was inspiring. I was filled with happiness to see someone push themselves to finish like that.”
Watching these events unfold before her eyes was Stetson lacrosse head coach Nicole Moore, who was quite proud of the character her young team showed that day.
“It portrays what wonderful, kind, young women they are and how they are willing to make a difference to those who are around them.” Moore said. “They did this without knowing what the outcome was going to be, they did it because they are great people.”
“I don’t know how excited the team was to wake up on Saturday morning to go to the race and I am sure that most of them would have preferred to sleep a little longer,” Ken Jr. said. “But our family is eternally grateful to all of the members of the Stetson Women’s Lacrosse Team for coming out and inspiring our Dad to finish the first 5k race of his life.”
The Runge’s plan on making it to all of the home Stetson lacrosse games this year so they can return the favor and cheer on their new group of friends. The family’s first chance to see their race buddies in action will come this Sunday, Feb. 9 at 1:00 p.m., when the Hatters host Oregon at the Athletic Training Center in the 2014 home opener.