For Jody Freeman, Saturday was bittersweet.
Any other year, Freeman’s daughter, Rachel would have run the Moore War Run that morning. By now, Rachel would have graduated from Moore High School, would have started college, would be back in town to run the race alongside her community and former classmates.
But for Freeman’s family, and for the family of Moore High School students Kolby Crum and Yuridia Martinez, this has not been a normal year. The three high school cross country and track athletes died in February after a hit-and-run accident that injured three of their classmates and left their community reeling.
When Moore’s running community gathered in front of Moore High School Saturday morning for the annual War Run, it was with Crum, Martinez and Freeman on its mind. The race, which benefits all three Moore high schools each year, began with a moment of silence for the three high school runners and for Joe Warfield, a longtime War Run participant who was killed by a car as he ran late last year.
Saturday’s race, a quick affair for many of Moore’s speediest high school athletes and community members, brought back memories for Freeman and for Tansey Hellbusch, Crum’s mother.
Crum and Freeman, both seniors this spring, ran the Moore War Run annually for the last few years, while Martinez, a sophomore, was just starting her high school running career.
“There’s good memories here, but we know our girl would be here running,” Freeman said. But we trust God and his plan, and we praise him for his grace for us to be here today.”
In the chaos of the last few months, as a pandemic took over the news cycle, Moore War Run organizers didn’t want any of the runners to be forgotten, said Kelli Kinnamon, one of the race organizers. Some of the Moore High School runners wrote Freeman, Martinez and Crum’s names down their forearms Saturday.
“It’s just crazy that we’re having to honor four different runners, killed in the same way, in one year,” Kinnamon said. “A lot of the families are here, so as much as letting them know that we remember and we honor them, I want this community and this school to know that we still remember what happened. There’s a lot of things that have happened since Feb. 3 that have taken the news, and we remember what happened, and we want to honor you guys.”
Those who knew and loved Freeman, Martinez and Crum best said Saturday was a mix of emotions. The War Run, a signal for the start of cross country season, was always a point of excitement for Crum, who likely would have attended this year despite having graduated, his mother said.
“It means a lot, because it meant a lot to Kolby, so I feel like I’m here for him,” Hellbusch said. “I’m glad to be here.”
For Crum and Freeman’s families, the years-long bonds with Moore’s track community have held strong over the last few months in the aftermath of tragedy. Hellbusch and Freeman said the Moore community, and especially their children’s track coaches, have shown an outpouring of support the last few months.
“They were great kids — had great work ethics, and they will live with us forever. They will run with us every year and stay with us forever,” said Stefan Seifried, head track coach at MHS. “At times it seems like they may be kind of pushed to the side, but they never will be — they’ll run with us as long as I’m here.”
Seifried coached Crum from seventh grade on, and had coached Freeman since she started on the team after joining the district from another school, he said. Processing the three students’ loss was harder for the track team and coaches because they were separated by quarantine and school shutdowns in the spring, said Seifried, who said it’s been helpful to be back with students.
“It’s pretty emotional - it’s been a long eight months,” Seifried said.“...The kids have had a great attitude and a great work ethic. They know why they’re out here running, and they’re running for the kids that can’t run anymore and the kids that we’ve lost — they’re using that motivation.”
Both Freeman and Hellbusch said they plan to continue coming to track meets when they can this year.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without the support of Moore and the high school and the team — even Jody and the other moms, we’re here for each other,” Hellbusch said. “It means so much — I can’t even imagine having to do this without them.”