Family remembers son with Thanksgiving 5K run

Most families have long-held rituals for their Thanksgiving mornings--think sleeping in, or prepping the turkey--but last year, Tyler Kreilter's family and friends helped start a new tradition, one they hope caught on: the Friendsgiving 5k.

Held bright and early on Thanksgiving morning, the run is a unique celebration of Tyler's life, a gathering of those who knew and loved him, plus anyone else who wants to start their holiday with encouragement, inspiration, and a finisher's medal and custom race shirt.

Who was Tyler, and why are his friends and family braving the November chill to host a 5k run in his honor? Ask anyone who knew him, and they'll tell you that first and foremost, Tyler was a talented high school and college cross-country runner. What set him apart, they'll say, wasn't his competitive finishing times or his dedication to the sport, but his habit of cheering on his teammates, and anyone else who laced up their shoes to join him on the track or trail. Tyler was all about community over competition, and though he was fast, it was his attitude that made him a great teammate and leader, whether on or off the cross-country trail.

That's why, when he died in a car accident last Nov. 11, at the age of 19, a 5k run seemed like the ideal way to remember and celebrate Tyler's life.

"How can you honor an inspiring runner by doing anything other than a 5k?” Tyler's friend, Karah Hoch, asked the group that had gathered to mourn Tyler in the hours after his passing.

With only 10 days to organize a run, Hoch and several other friends reached out to Tyler's family, who enthusiastically supported the idea of a Thanksgiving morning run to honor his life. The race was and is, says Tyler's sister, Betsy, a way to keep Tyler's legacy alive.

"Tyler's race honors my brother, but it goes beyond that-it honors his integrity, his compassion, and his natural gift of being present with people. Tyler was a good runner with competitive times, but what made him a great runner was the encouragement he provided to others - pushing them to reach their own potential.”

Tyler's close friend and teammate, Blaik Haney, agrees. "I've been able to come to terms with Tyler's passing by saying ‘I don't measure a life in years, instead I measure life in the amount of people that you impact in your life.' And at last year's event, I'm sure Tyler would have been highly satisfied to see how many people he impacted, or in most cases, inspired, myself included.”

Though they initially expected only a handful of friends and family to participate last Thanksgiving, Hoch, Haney and the others were delighted when more than 500 people showed up, ready to run, cheer, or just pitch in and help out. Volunteers, many of whom ran cross-country for teams that competed with Tyler, made signs to line the race course, each featuring one of Tyler's favorite inspirational quotes. Emotions were still very raw, and there were plenty of tears shed, but there were also moments of joy.

This year's race, Haney says, will be even better that last year's event. Rather than slogging through a slippery, muddy course at East China Park, the route will start and end near the Marine City Beach. Same as last year, though, says Tyler's sister Betsy, the run will be geared to people of all ages and experience levels, with 5k and 1-mile distance options.

"Tyler's race is a great first race for beginners,” Betsy says. "That being said, it is a race for intermediate runners and seasoned runners too, because it is a well-thought out race that honors what experienced runners are looking for in a local race-finishers medals, t-shirts, age group awards, and a positive running environment.”
Though registration will be open until the morning of the race, anyone who registers before Nov. 10 will be guaranteed a shirt and finisher's medal. No matter when a runner registers, though, the proceeds from the race will fund two college scholarships, awarded to one male and one female runner from the Blue Water area cross country teams.

The process of choosing the winners has given Tyler's family, especially his mother and father, Vince and Cindy, a measure of comfort. When making their selections, Cindy says, they're not just looking for the fastest runner, Cindy says, they're looking for the runner who, like Tyler, aims to inspire and encourage other runners. That's Tyler's spirit, and the spirit of the Friendsgiving run.

"This race is important for so many reasons,” Cindy says. "But most of all, we just don't want Tyler to be forgotten.”

He won't be.

Register information can be found at: Friendsgiving 5K