by Greg Hill
Last Saturday, Dr. Molly Reynolds and her four-month old son Rex crossed the finish line of the 5th Annual Yona Julian Memorial Fun Run in Independence, KS. It was longest distance she had ever pushed him before and on Monday, her arms were still sore. Her husband Dan finished in 3rd place of his age division. For most runners, that would be enough to feel good about a race.
But for Reynolds, a 2010 graduate of UMKC Dental School who practices in Cherryvale, KS, the success of the race was greater than just finishing. For her and her family, it was about carrying on the legacy of her sister Yona who lost a battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma five years ago this upcoming November.
“After she was diagnosed, we talked about how we would run a marathon together after she was cured,” Reynolds said. “After she passed away, I still wanted to run a marathon with her.”
In a way, she did. Reynolds registered to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in October 2008. She and Yona’s husband Brent Julian then ran the Honolulu Marathon just two months later.
“On the back of my shirt, I wrote ‘I’m running for my sister Yona – She would have passed you.’ And she would have,” Reynolds said. “The medals they gave after Nike had two women running together. I couldn’t help but think that she was there with me. When we ran the Honolulu marathon, Brent wrote on his jersey ‘I won’t quit, because she never did.”
Those words echo the physical toughness of Reynolds’s sister who competed in sports her entire life, earning distinction in every sport she played. As a senior in high school, she tried out for the boy’s baseball team because at the time, Independence High School did not have a girls’ softball team. She was the volleyball coach at Independence Community College and continued to coach, even while undergoing treatment.
Reynolds and Julian, along with members of the family, including Yona and Brent’s four children, decided five years ago they would continue Yona’s legacy with a run.
“She was so into sports and we thought that was a good way to remember her. It is something she would have liked,” Reynolds said. “The t-shirts say ‘Yona Strong.’ This year about 300 people ran the race. Last year on her 40th birthday, we had almost 400 runners.”
Following the race, participants and supporters enjoy the birthday cake Reynolds’s mother Becky Brown prepares every year to continue to celebrate Yona’s birthday which falls on September 8th. The run is held the weekend closest to her birthday.
“When we started raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, we were amazed at the outpouring of support,” Reynolds said. “There were people we didn’t even know who supported us. It really showed just how far she reached in this world.”
As she pushed Rex crossed the finish line, she thought about how this run will be a part of his connection to his aunt.
“I hope that between this run and the stories I tell him, he’ll know his aunt Yona as best he can.”
Authors Note: I had the privilege of knowing Yona (Brown) Julian. In 2007, after I learned she was diagnosed with cancer, I began raising money and training for the P.F. Chang’s Rock and Roll Marathon in her honor. She lost her battle about two months before I ran my marathon. Yona and I were in the same high school graduation class of 1990.
Independence KMOM volunteers will recognize Molly and Yona’s father Ken Brown who presented a history of Independence during one of the KMOM dinners.