Runners gather for 5K benefit for Oso first responders

ARLINGTON — The highlight for many of the participants in Sunday’s Oso Strong walk and run didn’t come when they crossed the finish line.

Instead, it came about an hour and 50 minutes after four people began the race’s 3.2-mile loop.

The end of the race course was lined with people cheering, clapping, hugging and, in some cases, crying as Natasha Huestis and Amanda Skorjanc, her fiance Ty Suddarth and their 10-month-old son, Duke Suddarth, came into view.

Huestis lost her 4-month-old daughter, Sanoah, and mother, Christina Jefferds, in the March 22 mudslide that killed 43 people. Skorjanc suffered multiple fractures from the mudslide, including those to her eye socket, arm, leg and ankle.

Huestis accompanied Skorjanc, Suddarth and baby Duke along the entire route near the Arlington Airport. “I was right by her side,” Huestis said.

Skorjanc wore a foot-to-knee medical boot to support her left leg and foot, which are still healing. It’s only been about six weeks that she’s been able to begin walking again, instead of having to rely solely on her wheelchair.

“I wasn’t going to miss this,” she said.

Sunday’s event was a fund-raiser for the Oso, Darrington and Arlington Heights volunteer fire departments, which assisted with the disaster response and recovery. The goal is for each of the three fire departments to get $10,000, said Kelsy Garka, who with a team of volunteers organized the race.

Skorjanc first told her story of surviving the mudslide in April, while hospitalized at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. She recalled seeing houses exploding, a neighbor’s chimney coming through her front door, and grabbing Duke, then just 5 months old, and holding him tightly to protect him.

Skorjanc remembers crying out to God: “Please save us,” as the mudslide, carrying a wave of debris, hit the house. When it finally stopped moving, she found herself about 700 feet from her home in a group of trees.

Skorjanc said she, Suddarth and Duke participated in Sunday’s fund raiser to show their support for the community and “especially to help the firefighters.”

Final tallies weren’t available, but at least 900 people participated. Seventy people from 20 states, who couldn’t travel to the event, registered and did their own walks and runs as their show of support.

Ryan Lowe, a member of the Lake Stevens Fire Department, his wife Krystal Lowe, daughter Elise, 3, and son Brady, 19 months, eagerly awaited the beginning of the race. Ryan Lowe said he was part of the mudslide response, working for a few days with recovery teams.

Lowe said he saw members of other fire departments at the event. “It’s good to see everyone come out to support this,” he said.

Tanya Ward, of Arlington, crossed the finish line holding a blue-and-green flag imprinted with the words, “Oso Proud, Oso Strong.” Ward designed and sold the flags as a fund raiser, with the $750 she raised going to Oso residents and its fire department.

Jeff Johnson, of Arlington, and a group of friends and family members wore T-shirts with the address 30812 Steelhead Drive. It’s the address of the former home of Johnson’s in-laws, Ron and Gail Thompson.

Although their home was destroyed, the Thompsons survived, leaving their neighborhood to run an errand just minutes before the slide hit.

The couple have relocated near the Oso fire hall. They wanted to find a home close to where they had previously lived, Johnson said. Family members were gathering at their new home Sunday afternoon for a barbecue.

Although participants were greeted with thumping music, the event began with several minutes of silence as 43 white doves were released, one for each person killed by the mudslide.

“It was emotional,” said Wendy Ginder, of Marysville. “It was a nice tribute.”

Garka, who announced plans for the race within a week of the mudslide, was joined by a volunteers who spent months preparing for it.

As Sunday’s event drew to a close, Garka said that one of the day’s best memories was seeing Huestis and Skorjanc cross the finish line. “It made it all worth it,” she said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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