Running for Rachel
For many, summer road races are a bucket-list item they prepare for in the spring, a product of a fulfilled New Year's resolution. For others, lacing up their running shoes and meandering toward a congested starting line is a spur-of-the-moment decision, perhaps influenced by a free bag of Ellsworth cheese curds.
But for the Farnsworth family, running on foreign pavement and enduring mid-race pains before taking in the joys of crossing finish lines serves a greater purpose: commemorating the life of their beloved mother and wife, Rachel Farnsworth.
Rachel, a 36-year-old mother of four and wife to Jim Farnsworth, died of cholangiocarcinoma, which her 9-year-old son Nathaniel explained as a rare form of liver cancer, in November of 2017.
Rachel was diagnosed on July 4, 2017, after experiencing what Jim described as "out of the blue" side pains, fevers and yellowing in her skin.
"We got it checked out, and they thought it was a gallbladder infection. It wasn't," Jim said. "They did some more digging into it and found that she had a mass and a tumor that was growing."
In less than a week, it was determined that Rachel's cancer was incurable and was going to take her life.
"That was really out of nowhere," Jim said. "It was quite a week. We tried chemotherapy, but it was understood that that was not curative. It was strange because every time we were wanting hope, there was really no hope there. The options were so limited, and chemotherapy really didn't do anything."
Yet, when Rachel's race became insufferable, the Farnsworths kept their sights on the ultimate finish line.
"Even though we didn't have hope in the doctors, there was a living hope that we had," Jim said. "We have a living hope that this world isn't our home, and so, even as her health declined, her spirit was alive and she was looking forward to meeting the Lord, which was something that she'd been praying for all of her life."
As they awaited the day Rachel would be able to rest her feet, they made the most of the final stretch they had together.
"Over the course of four months, she declined health-wise, but we really maximized family time," Jim said.
"Dad took off a lot of time from work, and we had time to spend with family. That was fun," Nathaniel said. "We went to Disney World and that was really fun, too."
But a spontaneous family trip couldn't repair the wound the Farnsworth family was about to endure. On Nov. 2, less than four months after her diagnosis, Rachel passed away, making Jim a single father of Alina (11), Nathaniel (9), Naomi (6) and Clara (4).
"In that situation, nobody plans for that," Jim said. "Nobody plans, in my case, to be a single dad with four kids. (Rachel) didn't plan for that. We had things that we were hoping to do in the years to come, but her eyes were set on the goal: meeting the Lord some day and knowing that's our eternal home.
"There's a verse in Jeremiah that says, 'I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to give you hope in the future, plans to prosper you,'" Jim recited. "God has good plans for Rachel, has good plans for me, has good plans for the kids."
Six months later, the Farnsworths decided that those plans entailed running races for Rachel, the woman who Jim said, "devoted time to walking with the Lord every day."
On May 18, Alina and Nathaniel ran their first 5k in Fargo — where Rachel's parent and siblings live — alongside many of their loved ones, Jim ran the 10k and they all carried Rachel's memory in their hearts and on their customized shirts made by Rachel's sister Laura.
The blue racing shirts read, "Run with purpose," above a Bible passage, Hebrews 12:1-2 — the scripture that the Farnsworths have lived out while trying to come to terms with the reality they never planned for.
The selected verses describe running the race that is set before us, and for Nathaniel, this means relying on faith when races — or life in general — get difficult. Just like his mom did.
Alina finds running to be somewhat therapeutic. "I like it because when I'm running I can get all the stress out when I'm stomping on the ground and enjoying the fresh air," the 11-year-old said.
Their newfound love for running is what brought the Lino Lakes, Minn. family to the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin's June 23 5k.
"We saw this (race) and thought it sounded like a lot of fun," Jim said while taking in all Ellsworth's East End Park had to offer. "You can eat bananas at the end of the Fargo Marathon, but here, cheese curds? Come on. This is awesome."
Ellsworth's summer road race may be the only 5k that offers cheese curds at its completion, but no matter which 3.1-mile course the Farnsworths decide to take on, they know Rachel will be near, helping them persevere through the race set before them.
With a bag of the state's finest curds in hand, Alina said, "It feels like she's here with us."