On a beautiful, unseasonably warm day in early March, Kenny Gilliland set off for an easy 6 miles from his home.
His home, about 15 minutes from Louisville, was in nearby scenic Oldham County.
Kenny never returned from that run.
The seemingly healthy 44-year-old and long-time runner suffered a fatal heart attack. He was found in a ditch alongside the road and was already dead when EMS arrived moments later.
His death shocked the local running community, which is fairly robust despite all the health statistics to the contrary.
Most of those runners know each other or close to it — it’s probably even fewer than the fabled six degrees of separation.
In fact, as a former running store employee, there are few people I don’t know. Unfortunately, I never met Kenny. I wish I had.
But now, as a newspaper reporter in Oldham County, I soon learned a runner had been found alongside a road.
I assumed he had been struck by a car. But Kenny’s heart attack reminds me that all of us, no matter how fit and healthy we are, never know when it’s our time.
It’s a startling realization.
Kenny’s death reverberated with the entire running community. His family has a lot to deal with — and as runners themselves, they are well-known in the running community, too.
So that network of people did what runners do when faced with problems: they ran.
But they took it one better.
Jeff Wells, owner of Fleet Feet Louisville, along with a number of other volunteers, organized a fun run to raise money to help Kenny’s family.
A $10 donation was suggested to participate in the run, which also featured a silent auction.
Brooks Running, through local representative Mike Flemming, deserves kudos for helping contribute some 90 items for the auction.
Kenny’s death should remind us all that we never know when tragedy may strike, but as runners, we always know there is a community to count on when it does.