As I recently wrote in Minnesota Running & Track magazine, Brian Kraft always came back to running. His dedication and enthusiasm for the sport - despite his long battle with cancer - inspired many others. A group of his friends started the Brian Kraft Memorial 5K in 1997, the summer after he passed away. Craig Yotter and I took on race director duties in 2004. We got involved mainly because we didn't want to see a quality race disappear from the calendar. But I had another motivation: Don't let them forget Brian Kraft.
I didn't know Brian well. But we both ran for coach Dennis Bartz at Bemidji High School, so we had something in common. We would always chat for a few minutes when we saw each other at a road race. Since Brian was something of a legend among runners from Bemidji, every conversation that I had with him was memorable.
But I always think about the time I saw him at the Easy Does It 5 Mile in the early '90s. Brian hadn't run the race, but had come out to cheer for his friend Valerie Olson. Since I hadn't seen him in a while, I asked Brian how things were going. He began with, "Well, maybe you haven't heard, but the cancer came back." I winced as he provided the details of the surgery, chemotherapy and recovery he had been through over the past few months. Without skipping a beat, he concluded with, "So, I'm only getting in about 50 miles a week."
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Brian Kraft Memorial 5K. It has again been designated as the USATF Minnesota 5K championship. The course is flat and fast, and people show up to race. It's a good tribute to a man who loved running and loved racing.
Don't forget Brian Kraft.
Photo by Monte Draper, courtesy of the Bemidji Pioneer