September 12, 2015, marked a very special day in the running, OCR and endurance communities. No singular event occurred that day. There were no purported “world championships” happening, and although plenty of races and events took place, it wasn’t about who made the podium. Instead, a small and organic event taken on with little fanfare has reaffirmed my faith in humanity, and my love of these communities.
The story starts, 10 years ago; Jane Boudreau Coffey of Vermont went into the hospital following a “perfect” pregnancy, only to leave empty handed and heartbroken when her daughter Faye was stillborn. This kind of tragedy can tear marriages apart and destroy lives. I can only imagine the pain that she and her husband Seth went through. Sometime after the birth of her daughter Aida (now 8), Jane found the world of endurance events through Andy Weinberg, participating first in ultrarunning, then in Spartan Races and several Death Races. She found that these events helped her get through her grief, and in turn, she was able to use the pain and loss of her daughter to propel herself past her limits and conquer these big challenges.
With the loss of a loved one, anniversaries can be devastating; in this case, even more so as Faye never had a chance to live at all. Rather than wallow in the feelings of sadness and depression, Jane decided to try and turn it around instead. She reached out to her Facebook friends about a month before the date through a private event for the day.
Here’s the pinned post from that page:
My sweet daughter would have turned ten years old coming up soon! She was born and died on September 12, 2005.
I'm inviting you all to hike/run/walk/WOD whatever amount that day in her memory! I ask that you post a pic here holding a sign that says “we hiked (or WOD'd, raced, ran or walked) for Faye!”
My goal was to head to California and compete in the 36-hour Endeavor Team Challenge that starts on her birthday, September 12, to honor her 10th but plans changed.
Let's move together in her sweet memory!
I love you all!
I heard about this from a mutual friend, Daren De Heras, while we were running an event together. He was excited because I was signed up to compete in the Endeavor Team Challenge; the very event that Jane wanted to do to commemorate the date. It was a no-brainer for me; of course I would be happy to do it “for Faye”, and I had my daughter paint a rock that my partner and I carried through the event.
Other people responded similarly, and Jane’s friends invited friends who invited friends… in the end, over 300 people participated in this small and personal event, many of whom (like me) had never even met Jane in person. Her enthusiasm was infectious and her gratitude that people were willing to dedicate their workout, hike, race, or whatever to Faye’s memory was very genuine.
In the end, the day came and went, and the event page and Jane’s personal Facebook account began filling up with pictures. Friends and strangers were paying tribute by holding up signs, writing on their arms, carrying rocks with her name on it, arranging flowers in a field, or drawing her name in the sand. People ran 5k’s (one pair ran a Naked 5k!), the Spartan Tri-state race, a triathlon, and even a 50k. They hiked, rucked, trained, and meditated. They played at the beach, climbed mountains and more for Faye.
They say, “Everything happens for a reason.” But for me, it has always sounded crass and callous; however, I do believe that there is incredible strength in creating a purpose out of personal tragedy that will benefit yourself or others. It is in this way that we can find meaning and turn a devastating personal loss into a positive force in the world.
This event, in many different ways, represents all that is good and pure in the running, OCR, and endurance communities. From Jane, it’s an important lesson on creating good out of tragedy and the power of sharing your vulnerability. In sharing her loss, she has helped many others deal with their grief. Those who participated in turn created a beautiful poem on love and empathy. John Bunyan once said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Quite simply, the world needs more of that.
In Jane’s own words:
I'm sitting here, going through each photo, each blessing, thankful for every one of you. You all moved for my girl!
My daughter changed my life ten years ago. The compassion and fearlessness she passed on to me, or that she allowed me to tap into has made me the person I am today.
What a gift.
There is pain in this process…losing love. I guess, losing dreams, too.
But, it's what we do with what is handed to us………..how do we handle that? Run from it? Or use it.
I always thought I would use it. Yes, it is scary. Hard. But, we are given the opportunity for growth when difficult experiences are presented.
Run with it. I promise you will become a better person. Stronger.
Those of you who are struggling, know you are loved. Know that you can use the energy to move forward. Figure out how to tap into it. It is cliche, but where there is a will, there is a way. Promise.
I will continue to go through all these sentiments….harness the energy to catapult forward. I welcome you all to tap into it as well. I will share with you all so LOVINGLY. As you have shared with me today….all your love.
Thank you, friends! You have made an impact in my life.