Family runs July 4th dash in memory of Snohomish man

Nelson Cobb’s family made him a promise. The Fourth of July would be a day to celebrate, even without him. And just as Cobb did for a dozen years, they would run in the Yankee Doodle Dash.

They made good on that promise, running Thursday in Cobb’s honor.

The Snohomish man died June 25, more than 10 years after first being stricken with cancer. Cobb was 74.

“This would have been his 13th race,” said Gael Thomson, health and well-being director for the YMCA of Snohomish County, sponsor of the annual July 4th Yankee Doodle Dash in Everett. “I prepared a special plaque to give his family,” said Thomson, who earlier this week planned to dedicate the 2013 race to Cobb with a short talk at the start.

The dash begins and ends outside the Everett Family Y on California Street, and includes 10K, 5K and 1-mile routes.

Cobb’s daughter Renee Richards ran the 5K with her father in 2012. As his cancer progressed, his family knew he wouldn’t be running this year’s dash. Weeks ago, he planned to participate in a wheelchair pushed by loved ones.

Richards had assured her father that the family would carry on the tradition, with his spirit an enduring presence.

His son Tom Cobb remembered happy times. His father won medals for his age group, and wore star-spangled shorts for the festive race. “Those shorts were something else,” he said Wednesday. Richards called her dad’s Yankee Doodle Dash shorts “family famous.”

Tom Cobb said his two sons, 18-year-old Toby and Tyler, 20, would be among the family’s runners. They would all wear T-shirts with “Running by Faith” on the front and one of Cobb’s favorite Bible verses on the back. “His faith was a big part of what kept him going,” said Tom Cobb, an Everett firefighter.

Thomson got to know Nelson Cobb through a cancer survivor group, Livestrong at the YMCA. The 12-week program began at the Marysville Y, and later came to the Everett branch. Exercise helps cancer survivors regain strength lost during treatment. Thomson said the emotional support participants share is equally important.

Cobb, she said, was an inspiration to others. “Last year he did the most awesome thing,” Thomson said.

Danielle Priore, who was in the Livestrong group with Cobb, had recovered from treatment and lost unwanted pounds. For the first time, she wanted to try a 5K, the Inspiring Hope Run in Mukilteo. It’s a fundraiser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which supports breast cancer research.

“He ran with her, even though he was struggling himself. He felt so happy for her,” Thomson said.

“He probably shouldn’t have run it, he wasn’t feeling well,” said Priore, of Lake Stevens. “We ran the first third of the race together, side by side. Then he said ‘You keep going, keep going, keep going.’ It was the nicest, most selfless thing anyone has ever done for me.”

Richards said her father took up running in his 40s. He was retired from work as a framer in the construction business. He and his wife Sandra were married 17 years, and he leaves a large blended family of children, stepchildren, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“For most of his running life, he was out on the Centennial Trail. He was a 5K, 10K guy. He once ran the Seattle Marathon,” Richards said.

Cobb kept running after being diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer when he was 63, Richards said. He had surgery and thought he was cancer-free.

In 2007, his daughter said, he suffered back pain and shortness of breath. And in 2008, inoperable stage 4 cancer was found in his lungs and spine. Richards said he had chemotherapy and radiation, and ran when he could. “As soon as he could get up and do anything, he’d be out training,” she said.

She said her father’s real strength came from his Christian faith. “That was what kept him going, his personal relationship with God,” Richards said. “That’s where hope and healing come from. He was not a perfect man, but I watched God work in his life.”

Priore, who was helped by Cobb at her side during her first footrace, said he was “one of the biggest motivators in my cancer journey.”

“He was so strong. He never once complained. He was quite, quite a guy,” she said.

A celebration of Nelson Cobb’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mountainview Christian Fellowship, 211 Sixth St., Sultan.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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