LAUREL — The running community in Montana has built a bond as strong as ever over the past 10 months.
Kimberly Peacock, a standout Columbia Falls runner who placed third in last year’s State A girls 3,200-meter run as a freshman, was diagnosed with Leukemia in July of 2017.
Following her diagnosis, Kimberly went to the children’s hospital in Denver. In the months since, she’s spent little time at home while undergoing numerous treatments and tests. With mixed results, the Peacock family sought opinions from numerous doctors who all came to the same conclusion: Kimberly needed a bone marrow transplant. She had the transplant on May 2 and has been inside the Denver hospital ever since, having spent just a week and a half at home since Valentine’s day.
Through this tumultuous period, though, the Peacock family has received unwavering support from the Montana running community, receiving cards, packages, phone calls and social media posts. At the State A and B track and field meets in Laurel on May 25-26, the support was visible on ‘Run for Kimberly’ T-shirts worn athletes and coaches.
“A couple of weeks ago I was probably at the lowest spot I’ve been in my life. … I’ve had a hard time smiling for about the last month. I’ve cried a lot this weekend. It’s happy cries. It’s not sad cries, it’s happy cries,” said Jim Peacock, Kimberly’s father and a longtime coach in Columbia Falls. “The smiles are hard to come by. Very happy, heartfelt, emotional cries have happened frequently this weekend between seeing stuff like the ‘Run for Kimberly’ shirts on the Manhattan kids, the Townsend kids, the coaches, the kids on our team. The number of people that have stopped me to say hi and genuinely asked out of concern how she’s doing, it’s touching.”
Heading the support for Peacock are Manhattan cross country coach John Sillitti and Townsend cross country coach Brooke Dolan, who is a former high school teammate of Jim Peacock’s at Jefferson High School. Just days after Kimberly’s diagnosis and the family’s arrival in Denver, Sillitti and his cross country team had a package sent to the hospital for Kimberly — a card signed by all the kids, balloons, and well wishes.
“Every now and again you get a little jaded, kids do things, we start thinking this next generation isn’t going to be the same, and then you see kids do stuff like this and they rally,” Sillitti said. “It’s touching, makes you feel better about this next generation coming up. It’s encouraging.”
“What a class act. Just a genuine, fantastic human,” Jim Peacock said of Sillitti. “His teams are really successful, but you see why, because he teaches his kids what’s really important in life.”
The ‘Run for Kimberly’ T-shirts were part of a fundraiser that a family in Columbia Falls put on for Kimberly while she was in Denver last summer. Teams from Manhattan, Townsend, Bigfork, Polson, Whitefish, Corvallis, and Hamilton, as well as kids from Thompson Falls and Eureka, came down to show their support and run.
“The atmosphere when we did the fun run, it was pretty cool to watch how many cross country teams came and supported it,” Bigfork coach Sue Loeffler said. “It was neat to see the running community come together and realizing one of their people was down.”
“There’s a family down in Corvallis, the Martin family, they reached out immediately,” said Jim. “Here’s a family in Corvallis that competes against Kimberly that immediately reached out to us to put us in contact with the right people, Aeroangel, to help her travel back and forth from hospitals because she’s immune compromised. Regular airline traffic could be deadly to her — she can’t be exposed to other people’s illnesses and sicknesses. Here’s a man that has reached out, followed her every step of her journey, and continues to reach out to our family just as a friendly voice. … It’s overwhelming. Hard to put into words how humbling it is, how impactful, how heartwarming. But humbling is probably the single biggest word to describe how wonderful the community of the state of Montana is, in particular this track and running community.”
Jim was back in Montana to watch the athletes he’s coached over the years compete at the State A track meet, using the weekend to recharge his batteries before heading back down to Denver in the coming days. The Peacocks have an apartment in a facility called Brent’s Place located next to the hospital where the family will stay while Kimberly is on an outpatient basis. She’s expected to be released from the hospital in the coming weeks, and, assuming there are no setbacks, Kimberly should return to Columbia Falls around August.
The support for Kimberly doesn’t stop with the end of the spring sports season in Montana. Dolan will be hosting a 5K in Townsend on June 21 in conjunction with Townsend Slice of Summer to benefit Kimberly’s medical fund. The only entry fee required is a donation.
“It’s this weird love we have for this sport that we get to do forever, so when you see someone who has a passion for it like Kimberly and she doesn’t get to do it, it makes all of us want to do it for her even more,” Dolan said. “Even though we know (the donations) probably won’t make a dent in one day of her bills, we want to let her know we’re always thinking of her.”
Dolan’s son Jack, a cross country runner for Townsend, has had Kimberly on his mind throughout the year. During basketball season, Jack wrote #KimberlyStrong in marker on his shoes to carry that little extra motivation with him.
Polson’s Bea Frissell is also an athlete that carries the thought of Kimberly with her when she runs. Kimberly finished third in the 3,200-meter at last year’s State A track meet meet behind Belgrade star Pipi Eitel and Frissell.
“Kimberly means a whole lot to me and she’s given me a ton of inspiration,” Frissell said. “I go out there and I think about her on that line. I’m running for her. I love seeing somebody else wearing (‘Run for Kimberly’) shirts and it makes me feel really connected to the rest of the communities.”
It wasn’t all smiles at the state meet for Jim, though. Thoughts of Kimberly being in Denver without him weighed heavily on his mind. Jim said at times he couldn’t sleep, and when he did, he would awake scared that he missed something, and he worried non-stop. He emphasized, though, how tough Kimberly has been through this, saying she’s handling it with complete grace. Kimberly’s spent most of her 15- and 16-year-old life in a bubble away from friends — not running cross country, not playing basketball, not running track, and not having a job that she loved. Yet, Jim says, he never hears ‘It’s not fair’ or ‘Why me?’ from his daughter.
“The distance runner in her has her very well-suited to fighting a long, hard struggle,” Jim said. “She’s tough, and she has hundreds, if not thousands, of people behind her and following her and what she’s doing. It’s really humbling.”