LIGHTHOUSE: Remembering Chris Jarvis

The Lighthouse Fitness Project is an opportunity to share and grow the vision, mission and focus of the Platte River Fitness Series through the stories and photographs of 10 individuals who have generously agreed to let us share their journey to wellness and the “Lighthouses” who helped guide them. Click here for more posts from the Lighthouse project.

Chris Jarvis

Chris Jarvis

The circumference of the earth is 24,859.82 miles. Chris Jarvis ran around the world ... more than twice.

As he neared the end of his first trip around the globe, he woke his three children so they could share the moment as he finished his goal on the family treadmill. His son Cody, still sleepy from the early hour, forgot to press "Stop" as Chris reached the end of his journey. With a broad smile, Chris's evaluation of the situation was, "Guess I'll have to do it again."

Chris Jarvis was a local running icon and fitness mentor for an entire community. The easy story to tell would be that of his accomplished running career. When he ran, those nearby would stop and watch, quietly and in awe, the way you watch the most graceful, efficient animal in nature. He seemed to float on air. Chris had a strong connection to the Lincoln Marathon and Half-Marathon. Every time he ran the Lincoln Marathon, he qualified for the Boston Marathon, making the trip to the legendary start in Hopkinton in 1994. He had a 19-year streak of Lincoln finishes, which often included a place on the award podium in his age group. Chris was denied entrance into Lincoln in what would have been his 20th event because he missed the entry deadline. A resolute race director did not grant him any consideration for his streak. Chris would never run in Lincoln again.

Chris took nearly a year off from racing, but had come back to racing in October 2010 for the inaugural Autumn River Run Half-Marathon, a race he envisioned for North Platte. A few weeks following the half-marathon, Chris completed a typical 10 mile training run on his favorite treadmill. It would be the last run of his life. Chris Jarvis, age 51, died of Sudden Cardiac Death the following morning at his home, leaving his family, friends and an entire running community lost without his strength, the example he set and his unparalleled leadership.

Chris's race resume was extensive, running too many 5Ks and 10Ks to count, but his true talent was in the endurance distances. The longer he ran, the better he got. He was, in every sense, an endurance animal. He ran the marathon internationally with Team in Training in Germany, and coached a group of novice marathoners with Team in Training for a marathon in Alaska. He ran a 100K in Iowa, and completed four 50 mile ultra-marathons in Kansas. The medals, the achievements and accomplishments, however, tell only a very small part of the story of Chris Jarvis.

Like the other nine Lighthouse Fitness Project athletes, Chris found himself by making a simple decision. At the age of 31, Chris came home from a fishing trip, sat on the couch, and noticed a pot belly protruding over his belt. Looking at his expanding waistline, he decided it was time to make changes and get fit. Chris enjoyed chewing tobacco at the time, as well. The story goes that Chris even competed in his first 5K with a nice wad of tobacco in his cheek. Chris eventually stopped chewing and kept running ... and running and running. He is such a fine example of the maxim from George Elliott that it is "never too late to be what we might have been." Chris exuded athletic ability and running talent, and could compete with, and most often outrun athletes half his age.

His running accomplishments, however, are not what made Chris Jarvis legendary. His passion and compassion, his understanding of the sport and experience in the sport, his openness, his generosity and his modesty made him one of the true founding fathers of fitness in his community. Chris not only competed in races, he shared his love of running by directing and hosting races, as well, sometimes dipping into his own pocket to make sure a race could happen. Chris truly loved his children and taught them to be modest, never brag or boast. He taught them that they must never quit what they start and never to give up on themselves. He modeled the value of hard work and the redemption that the running life could give them. Maybe his greatest legacy to his children was a staunch individualism, guiding them to follow their own"true north", their own conscience, and to know their own body, mind and soul. They were told to follow their own path and no one else's. Chris's legacy to his children is the same legacy he left his friends and his community. The Autumn River Run now bears his name, and those that knew him well and those who never met him run with the whisper of his spirit, his determination and his goodness in their footsteps.

It may seem odd that a project focused on the health benefits of physical fitness would conclude with a story of an athlete who was denied the longevity we seek when we seek a healthier way to live. Like every lesson taught by an active life, Chris reminds us of the words of running philosopher Dr. George Sheehan, "Don't be concerned if running or exercise will add years to your life. Be concerned with adding life to your years." An active lifestyle, the running life does just that. Chris's story reminds us that there are no guarantees, but if you play the odds, you know that your life, even if it is not lengthened, is made so very much better. Chris would also want us to know he would not have traded one of the tens of thousands of miles he ran for more time. Each and every mile made Chris a new creature, just like they do for all of us. They formed him and forged him into a "fully functioning man," and as theologian Ireneus once wrote, "The glory of God is man fully functioning."

The Lighthouse Fitness Project was created to highlight the power of people to change and the need we all have for one another. The stories are templates that anyone can use to live a new and better way. Wellness starts with a personal choice and moves forward in community. It really is that simple.

Wayne Wallace and Chris Jarvis

Wayne Wallace and Chris Jarvis

A "Fitness Lighthouse" embodies that relational reality, and the relationship between Chris and his truest "lighthouse" Wayne Wallace is one of the most profound examples that exists. Chris and Wayne, Wayne and Chris, forever and always, they were running companions, and the very best of friends. They could compete fiercely with each other, and jog off to cooldown as brothers.

The finest example of what it truly means to be a friend, a lighthouse and a real runner comes from one of those 50 mile Kansas ultramarathons. Even before the halfway mark of a race so remote that a helicopter might be needed to find a lost runner, Chris began to falter. The course was a two-loop course, with the turn taking you back to the starting line at the 25 mile mark. As Chris became sicker, he began to wonder if he could even finish. Wayne, on the other hand, was having a good day and could have been a potential winner on the day. There would have been glory in that for Wayne. True runners, however, know there are things much bigger and more important than personal glory. At the halfway mark, Chris told Wayne to go on without him. Sacrificing a high finish, potentially a championship, as the payoff for the unbelievably hard training, Wayne refused to leave Chris behind, running the remaining 25 miles with Chris, encouraging and inspiring him to finish. Finish they did, together, side by side, perhaps to those lucky enough to have witnessed it, the greatest example of the power of friendship and the human will. Those who watched were never the same.

Had Chris lived, he would have started to slow down, as all aging runners do. He would have also known what Dr. Sheehan knew, "What I have lost I can afford to lose. What I have gained is something I cannot do without." Our "fitness family" lost a leader, but what we have gained from his legacy, none of us can ever do without.