Sep 22

This summer I took up a new hobby.  I hesitate to call it a “hobby” because that is defined as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.”  It is not pleasurable…at all.

I decided to train and run a 5K. It was always something I wanted to do, but never had the focus.  I ran in middle school and high school, competing in cross-country and track, but fell far away from such exercise since then. I ran my first race in late June.  I placed 2nd in my age division. (Keep in mind women 40-49 is not a huge division, nor a particularly fast one.)  Not wanting to be a “one and done” person, I signed up for a 2nd.  I placed first, though, again, small number/not the speedy group. I give the real credit to my friend Judy, who I trained with.  We ran four races together, encouraging each other, and pushing each other to do another and then another. Hot and sweaty after finishing #1, then #2, then #3, we would look at each other and say “what’s next?” Since then I have done a couple more and am registered for #8. Why? I do not know. After what happened this weekend, maybe God has a reason.

There is a website where you can search all 5Ks in Minnesota.  I go on there looking for nearby races.  I found one in Alexandria this past Saturday. Turns out, it was a memorial run for a young man who had committed suicide two years ago. I did not know anything about the story of the young man when I arrived at the park. I found out he loved fitness, working out, and he had run and competed in races with his Dad. The environment in that park was amazing!  So much work had gone into organizing. There was a 5K run, 5K walk, 1K run for kids, and 1K walk, silent auction, DJ, concession stands, professional timers. It was also beautiful, with songs, stories, memories. It was extraordinary. Prior to the race, there was a talk about suicide and lengths of string were distributed – some long, some short. The point was made that we all have different lengths of life to live. No one knows how long their string is. Kids were encouraged to come forward and tie these lengths of string to their shoes and think each day how they can be kind to others.

He was also a spiritual man, and his faith was emphasized. The back of our t-shirts, distributed to all runners and walkers, recites 2 Timothy 4:7. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Reflecting further on this powerful talk, over the weekend, I found this poem, “So Many Different Lengths Of Time,” by Brian Patten. Here are some excerpts:

“How long does a man live after all?

A thousand days or only one?

One week or a few centuries?

How long does a man spend living or dying

and what do we mean when we say gone forever?


So, how long does a man live after all?

And how much does he live while he lives?

We fret and ask so many questions –

then when it comes to us

the answer is so simple after all.


A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,

for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,

for as long as we ourselves live,

holding memories in common, a man lives.”


It strikes me that the poem asks “how much does he live while he lives”? What are we doing with our string (the length of life), given to us by God? Our life and our potential in that life is God’s gift to us; what we do with that potential is our gift to God.  What a life this young man lived!  So short, and yet so powerful!

I do not know, at this point, what I am giving to God by continuing to run these races. When I finished on Saturday it was so hot and humid my glasses fogged up because my face was too hot. Really God? This is what I am supposed to do doing? Yet, I believe He brought me there Saturday.

Why keep running?  I know it is good for me. I feel much better physically.  It helps with stress. At the same time, it would be so much easier to stop, but that is part of the reason I do not. Getting beat by 60-70 year-olds is humbling and important. I run also because of my friend, Judy, who inspired me, pushed me, and continues to amaze me with her spirit. Her enthusiasm is contagious. I firmly believes God is able to see something in us that we often overlook and He gave me Judy at this point and time to point out and push me to see my potential. After the first day of training, she told me I could do this (when I thought I never could). Look around your life – is there someone in your life like that? Those people are God’s gift!  It makes me consider – well, if I can do this, what else can I do?

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And now, after Saturday, I also feel I should keep running for this young man, Matt, whose family honors him with a race. He clearly had the ability to encourage others, show them their potential and support their endeavors.  Stories were shared about his empathy for people around him. Had I not kept running after race #1, I would not have found this man’s story, witnessed the powerful testimony to this life, and been inspired to look at my own life. I thought today about the kids who went to school this morning with those strings tied to their laces, bringing forward this man’s legacy of kindness to their schools and showing them their potential. How long is he living after all?

I want to acknowledge Matt Kjelland’s family (his parents Michael and Susan, and brother, Andy) for an amazing event. I walked away with a deep admiration for this family, and this young man. I walked away continuing to ponder about those little pieces of string, recognizing mine might be shorter than I think and what am I doing in case it is?

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Perpetual Posters” page.


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(5) comments

Mike-Sue-Andy Kjelland September 22, 2018

This writing was so beautiful and so well done, sharing our story and yours about running! Tears of joy and sadness of course flowed as we read your words.
What a wonderful and accurate description of your experience and what our intentions are with celebrating Matt’s life through our event. We have designed our event with these multiple dimensions and are so happy to know that you experienced all of them!!
Thank you so much for this, our words cannot express our appreciation!
Our hope is that God’s Blessings will continue to flow into your life!
Sue, Mike, Andy Kjelland

Mary B September 22, 2018

The Kjellands are good friends of ours, your post brought tears, because it described perfectly the meaning and purpose of Matt’s Memorial Race! Thank you for sharing – hope to see you next year!

Sue Kjelland September 24, 2018

Thank you for the powerful article. This is what we, as parents, want the outcome of Matt’s life and death to be. We hope others will feel they are valuable and can choose to be humble and kind. Our family has also battled Lyme disease. Matt had it the worst and it affected his muscles , back and chest most. He was unable to work out and be physically active for a long time. That left him feeling very down. He was just starting to improve when this happened. He is so missed and so loved. A wonderful son!
I hope this does leave an impact on you and others. That we remember how Matt lived and not how he died.
Congratulations on your run! Keep it up.
Again, thanks

Tim Urness September 24, 2018

Wow….Thank you for this summary. Mike and Sue do an awesome job with this run and so powerful to read how you felt about it. Good things coming from dark days.

Jeannie maurer April 22, 2019

Hi , my name is Jeannie and I’m 52 years old get ready for my first 1/2 marathon, I run to celebrate life and to me running is a form of prayer , you see 15 years ago I had a snow tubing accident in my own back yard , which I have no memory of – I was in coma for 4 days and broke 14 bones with trauma to my brain ! My last memory before waking up was a indescribable experience with visiting Jesus ! I run to celebrate my life as Jesus quided me home after Doctors told my family I would not live ! Glory to God I beat the odds , after years of therapy and holding on to my faith and continuing to feel the love Jesus showed to me !! Running is my form of prayer !

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