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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - One year ago, 20,000 runners hit the streets for the annual 5/3 River Bank Run, including Jason Kinzler.
About a mile from the 25K finish line, Kinzler collapsed. He had suffered a major heart attack, and efforts to revive him were futile.
He was 37 and left behind a wife and three children.
"He was the most amazing husband and father, son, friend and had such a positive impact on everybody that was around him," Kristi Kinzler told 24 Hour News 8.
In the mid-1990s, he was a star linebacker at Grand Valley State University. He was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2008.
He lived a clean life, was in great physical shape and was seemingly in perfect health -- which made his sudden death all the more shocking.
This year, two groups will run the race in honor of Kinzler. Collectively, they are known as Team Kinzler.
"Instead of avoiding that day," said his Mercantile Bank co-worker Ray Duimstra, "really kind of cherishing that day and remembering him in a positive way. And all of us running together in his memory."
One group is made up of former GVSU football players.
"You knew the way that he took care of himself and the type of shape he had been in, from the time that he had played and then carried it forward," said Seth Yon, who was a teammate on their GVSU team. "It was just a complete shock that we found out."
The other group is made up of Kinzler's coworkers from Mercantile Bank, who have already memorialized him with a small garden behind the bank in downtown Grand Rapids.
"We chose it specifically here because anyone who walks into the bank, every employee, every day, would see the garden and be reminded," Duimstra said.
The team of about 70 people is participating to raise money for the Jason Kinzler Family First Foundation.
The group first organized to raise money for Kinzler's family to help his wife Kristi with the financial responsibility of raising three children. But when they brought that idea to Kristi, she declined.
"She liked the idea, but she wanted to take it a different direction," Duimstra said. "She wanted all of us to run in Jason's memory. But any funds we were able to raise would go towards a foundation that would help other people that were maybe similar to Kristi in that situation with an unexpected loss. Just listening to her vision, we all just fell in love with it."
Kristi Kinzler is a counselor at a middle school. "Through some of the work that I get to do there, it's a very different perspective than the community that I live in," she said. "There was a family there that I was helping try to find resources for, who went through something very similar a few months after what my family went through.
"And so my idea was, OK, enough for us. We're going to be fine. What can we do to help others who go through something similar?"
Kristi said she will not attend the River Run this year. It's too painful for her.
"As hard as it has been to lose Jason, we could not have gotten through this without the support we have had from our family and friends and the community, and realizing that not everyboyd has that."
But she will be at a special reception later that night at the BOB to say thank you to all the Team Kinzler runners.
"The support behind this already has been almost overwhelming," she said. "But it's not surprising because it reflects the man that Jason was and how his presence in this world touched so many lives. I think it has the potential to be really big.
"Already it is. Already it is."
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