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My Most Important Mile: Jill Kelsey

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And now, today’s post...

Another in our series of Most Important Miles to celebrate the fact that we are so grateful for your stories, our collective miles that send strength and love into the world, the community that brings us together, and the simple ability to run.

Juliet is on the left, Shannon is center, Cara is on the right, and Jill, the writer of this piece, is in the back. This was snapped after an early morning run

Whenever I have a loss, a solo run helps me work it all out. I unexpectedly lost Juliet, a dear friend, last week. She was 42. The cause of her death is still undetermined. She was recovering from pneumonia in the hospital, was released, then collapsed and died the following day at home. Juliet leaves behind three children — ages 14, 12, and 10 — and a husband.

We had both moved in the past year and, besides seeing each other's Facebook posts and occasional text, we had hardly kept in touch. In the last week, I have had several runs trying to work out my grief and guilt, but it wasn’t until today, towards the end of a 15-miler that I realized what I needed to say to Juliet.

We'd become friends because our friend Shannon forgot her dress shoes and was wearing running shoes at a church event. It was 2011, the Rock’n’Roll marathon was coming to Savannah for the inaugural year, and Shannon had recruited me to help coach a local training group. At the church event, the always friendly Juliet walked up to Shannon and noting her work clothes and informal shoes asked, “Do you run?” It turned out Juliet was new in town and an experienced running coach, so naturally Shannon recruited her to help with the training group. Juliet ended up being our experienced leader.

As Juliet and I ran together on the weekends, we found out that we had a lot in common. Our kids are about the same age. We both have roots in Pittsburgh and were science teachers. In fact, Juliet completed her student teaching at the high school I’d graduated from. As a new runner, I learned so much from her. That year, she was tackling her first full marathon. Not only was she full of knowledge, she was fun and introduced me to sparkle skirts, which are a staple of my race wear.

The following year, I decided to run a full marathon and she was such an important cheerleader. I would constantly go to her for advice or to share news of achieving new mileage. By then, all her children were now in school and she felt like she was ready to leave the stay-at-home mom life. I encouraged her to start substituting. She subbed in my classroom and my students loved her. In the blink of an eye, she was a long-term sub and then a full-time teacher with me at the same high school!  As we became work colleagues, we became even closer and often leaned on each other for support.

Jill (left) and Juliet after a mud run.

I feel honored that I got to be a friend to her when she needed it, because she was always that friend to everyone.  When I told my kids that Ms. Juliet had passed, my daughter asked, “The one who I spent the night at her house and we biked to Dairy Queen?” Yes, sweetheart. She was a friend that I trusted enough to keep my kids overnight and a kind enough person who I was not afraid to ask a big favor of. She had such a big heart and everyone knew it.

As I slogged through the last mile of my long run, I was grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to be able to run, grateful to Juliet for introducing me to the sport, and grateful to have her in my life for the past six years.

Jill Kelsey teaches at Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, SC.  She has two kids, ages nine and six. They did a color run this weekend for WHHS Spirit Week and are still trying to get the color off of themselves.

8 responses to “My Most Important Mile: Jill Kelsey

  1. Whew, you wrote how I’ve felt for a week. Like someone punched me in the gut & I can’t take a deep breath. I miss my friend. I am realizing our ages and seeing pictures where some of my friends are gone – sudden heartaches like Juliet’s loss. It reminds me that those texts are important. People & friends are important. Family is important. Grieving for the loss of a wonderful light and a wonderful mom. Prayers to Greg & the kids…and here’s a run for our dear friend.

  2. Jill, this was beautiful. And knowing that she also graced the walls of RBHS makes her even more dear to my heart. I’m so sorry for your loss, friend.

  3. A beautifully written tribute to a fabulous friend. I am sooo sorry for your loss. Continue to treasure those memories. I pray for peace for you and her family + friends.

  4. I’m crying – literally. My heart breaks – for Juliet’s family and for you, Jill. It is a tragic loss of an incredibly important friend. Please remember to be kind to yourself as you heal. I wonder if there is a way to commemorate Juliet’s life and make it even more special? Perhaps starting a scholarship fund/annual race to provide scholarships for something that was important to her? Just a thought; there are many many many other ideas. Sending you peaceful healing energy as you work through recovering from this huge loss. xoxo

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