Honoring runner’s legacy by helping families through loss

Jason Kinzler collapsed and died 2011 Fifth Third River Bank Run

Jason Kinzler
An undated courtesy photo of Jason Kinzler and his children.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When thousands hit the pavement Saturday for the 39th annual Fifth Third River Bank Run, Kristi Kinzler will be remembering the fifth anniversary of her husband’s sudden death.

“When I think about May 14th, 2011 … I don’t think there are really any words to describe what that day was like,” she said.

Jason Kinzler had been a star athlete at Grand Valley State University. In his 30s and the picture of health, he decided to participate in the River Bank Run.

“I woke up that day and (I thought), ‘What a beautiful life.’ So many blessings and I knew how good that we had it,” Kristi remembered.

But a mile before the finish line, Jason collapsed and died.

“That kind of sudden, unexpected event — trauma, is really what it is — it’s always going to be like the before and the after,” Kristi said.

What’s come after has been a gift the Kinzler family and their friends have been able to give others.

Kristi went to work full-time as a counselor at Godwin Heights Middle School in Wyoming, a job that had her looking for help for families like hers that were dealing with loss.

“What I found is that there’s not really anything for families who suddenly or unexpectedly lose a parent or a primary caregiver,” she said.

So the Jason Kinzler Family First Foundation was born. It raises money for families who lose a parent; a breadwinner. Nearly $200,000 has been raised and given to West Michigan families to help them with mortgage payments, groceries or whatever they need during their time of mourning.

For Kristi, the giving all comes back to her three kids.

“To be able to not just tell them what their dad believed in — family first, putting others before self — but to show them through the eyes of the families we’re helping in this community, that’s a gift,” she said. “That’s an incredible gift.”

The Jason Kinzler Family First Foundation’s annual dinner, set for June 7 at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, will feature Western Michigan University football coach P.J. Fleck.

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Online:

Jason Kinzler Family First Foundation

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