At Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back, family keeps running
Park City • As the final runner from each team approached the finish line at the 10th annual Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back on Saturday, their teammates would join them about 100 yards from the end and the 12 runners would finish the two-day, 198.3-mile race as a team.
Starting in Logan on Friday morning and ending on the track at Park City High School on Saturday, the teams crossed the finish line, received their medals, shared celebratory hugs, and gathered for a group photo.
After his team photo, Mike Cooper of Salt Lake City, a large man with white hair and big smile, posed for a picture by himself, holding a photo of his mother and father, framed by hand-written words on white paper. After his picture was taken, he handed the paper to his nephew, 21-year-old Max Nichols, who posed for a similar shot.
"My dad right now is dying of a blood disease," Cooper said. "We just got the diagnosis last week that he should go home to hospice. So we're running for him today. He's a great man."
That difficult news came just two months after the family faced another daunting trial.
The family lost Max Nichols' brother, Jeffrey Garrett Nichols, on April 11 at the age of 23. He passed away after battling metastatic fibrosarcoma for 21 months.
Max, who was serving an LDS Church mission in Independence, Mo., when his brother was diagnosed with the disease, returned home on March 8 and was able to spend time with his older brother before he died.
"It was a gift from God, to say the least," Max said. "I was very grateful for those five weeks. It was a good time to get closure for our relationship."
Cooper ran the Ragnar Relay Florida Keys in January in honor of his nephew, and he gave him his medal before he passed away.
Garrett was also the main reason that Cooper started an organization called Run Cancer Out, which aims to help families of cancer patients find ways to raise money and awareness for rare and under-researched diseases through races like the Ragnar Relay series.
Despite the tragedies they have faced, Mike Cooper and Max Nichols don't have to look far to see an example of what someone can accomplish after facing a difficult trial.
Max's uncle Bryan Nichols was left badly injured in a car accident in Salt Lake City in 1994.
"I'm 'Humpty Dumpty' they had to put me back together again," joked Bryan Nichols as he lifted his shorts to show large scars running the length of his left leg, remnants of the accident and ensuing surgeries.
Twenty years after that accident, Bryan crossed the finish line on Saturday alongside two sons, as well as Max Nichols and Cooper, and in doing so became one of a select few who has run the Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back all 10 years.