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OKC Memorial Marathon: From one mom to another

This past month, I thought a lot about Sharon Coyne.

Perhaps you remember her story. I had the honor of sharing it last year before the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon — you can read it by clicking here — and it has stayed with me. Sharon was a young mom when her 14-month-old daughter was killed in the bombing at the Murrah Building. Jaci Rae was one of the kids at the daycare.

The whole thing ripped Sharon apart. It was so bad that she and her husband, Scott, had to move away from Oklahoma City. Sharon saw reminders of Jaci Rae everywhere and she just couldn’t heal.

She wanted to remember her girl but forget the bombing.

Visiting the national memorial?

Even all these years later, it’s something Sharon has never been able to do. Her sister will go to the memorial every April 19 and hold up her phone so Sharon can hear the service.

But a few years ago, one of Sharon’s closest friends from her years in Oklahoma City convinced her to come back and run the half in the Memorial Marathon. She ran again last year when I wrote about her.

Frankly, her story resonated with me. A year ago this week, my daughter was only a little older than Jaci Rae on the day of the bombing. My daughter goes to daycare like Jaci Rae did. And to hear Sharon tell her stories of that day, I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes.

I cried over her story, over her pain, over her loss.

Two weeks ago on the Monday before the 20th anniversary of the bombing, I sent Sharon a text. I just wanted her to know that I’d been thinking about her. I wasn’t sure I’d even hear back from her. Would she think it was weird that I’d texted her? Would she want to avoid talk of such a painful chapter?


But the next morning, she replied.

I replied to her by explaining that she had been on my mind because her strength and her story was one of the things that I’d found myself focusing on as I prepared to run the half marathon, just like she’d done the year before.

We exchanged several messages over the next hour or so.

“Is this your first half?” she asked.

“Indeed!” I told her.

“Now I’m really excited for you,” she said. “Jenni, when you finish this race, you are going to be exhausted, but you are gonna feel so darn proud!!! That feeling is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”

Sharon was inspiring me again.

But I had no way of knowing that she wasn’t done. Last Wednesday, Sharon texted me again and told me that she’d told her friends about me running my first half.

“And we want to be there when you finish,” she said.

I hadn’t known it before, but Sharon was already planning to be in Oklahoma City for the Memorial Marathon. She and her friends were going to walk the 5K, but they decided to make me a side project.

I was so humbled and honored.

On Sunday, Sharon was one of a couple people that I had on a group text during the race. When possible, I sent updates as I passed mile markers. Sharon sent several replies.

After Mile 7: “You’re almost there, sugar!!!”

After Mile 10: “Come home, Jenni!!! Can’t wait to see you!”

After Mile 11: “Watching for you just beyond the finish line.”

And sure enough, waiting there just beyond the finish line was Sharon and her friends. They all had signs, so they were easy to find. But I honestly think I recognized Sharon first. Even though we’d never met, I knew her face from some pictures she’d shared, and honestly, her eyes gave her away.

They look just like Jaci Rae’s did.

I could see her looking for me, but it wasn’t until I was almost right in front of her that she saw me. Her eyes lit up. She laughed and smiled and reached for me.

We embraced like we’d known each other for years.

There were a lot of special things about running the half. Seeing signs of support. Kissing my daughter and husband along the way. Achieving something that I would’ve thought a pipe dream 10 years and 50 pounds ago. But nothing was any better than that hug with Sharon Coyne.

I’m working on writing a letter for Jaci Rae. I want her to know how much her mom loves her, and I want her to know how much her mom inspires me. Later this week, I’m going to take it to the memorial and leave it along with my race bib on Jaci Rae’s chair.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›