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Blanchette: Kim Jones’ biggest wins came in life

Spokesman-Review contributing sports columnist John Blanchette.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokesman-Review contributing sports columnist John Blanchette. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Sometimes ambition is nothing more than urge’s well-fed cousin.

The motives behind it don’t have to be grand or profound; they can always be amended and enhanced as time goes on.

Whatever Kim Jones wanted to achieve as a runner later on – and she achieved plenty – she’s always had a grasp on what set her in motion in the first place. During her days as one of the world’s fastest marathoners, to see her running through the streets of Spokane was to imagine another distant finish line, another medal, more applause.

And make no mistake: She heard the cheers, and bathed in them.

But at the beginning?

“Being a middle child, it was my way of saying, ‘I’m here, I’m alive,’” she said.

And she’s just said it again. Just not on foot.

Three years in the writing and a lifetime in the making, Jones’ autobiography “Dandelion Growing Wild” became available for order this week online. She’d hoped to have it out in time for Bloomsday 2012, but publishing schedules can’t always be flexible as training schedules.

But that’s OK. For all the running in the book, it’s not really a running book.

It’s an extraordinary, often devastating family story told unflinchingly. Whatever disappointments befell Jones on those occasions she tried to put the crowning stamp on her running career – missing the Olympics, getting injured at the World Championships, runner-up near-misses on the biggest marathon stages – were trifles compared to the real heartache.

So why relive them?

“I started writing a series of stories for my daughters – stories that helped them through awkward and disappointing times when they were growing up,” she said over the phone from her home in Fort Collins, Colo. “And not just the disappointment stories, but humorous and adventure stories. They loved them, and they always wanted to hear them.”

Over time, those stories grew into a history, an explanation – and, when she was blindsided by the greatest heartache of all, inevitably a necessity.

“It was very healing for me,” Jones said. “I just had to sit down and do it, and in the end I think you’ll appreciate why.”

The Kim Jones who came within a whisker of winning in Boston and New York had to do some hard running just to get out of a childhood in Port Townsend, Wash., in a family haunted by dysfunction, poverty and tragedy.

Laurin and Geraldine Seelye had seven children. One died shortly after birth; two others died in accidents, as did a stepbrother; the three others besides Kim have all done time in jail. Her father, a schizophrenic, committed suicide, following three brothers who did the same; two other brothers were killed in accidents.

Jones herself hasn’t exactly lived on an island of Waltons-esque normalcy. There was some teenage larceny. She got booted out of college for a semester (a bit of administrative over-reaction). Two marriages ended in divorce.

And when she was a 16-year-old junior in high school, she had a baby, Rachel Lynn.

She would be given up for adoption to a family that the Seelyes knew, so Jones would have intermittent contact with her – and eventually, come to re-adopt her as a teenager years after the birth of a second daughter, Jamie.

“I had so many regrets and I felt the guilt,” Jones said. “I never dreamed it possible that I could have her back into my life, and it was amazing that happened. And even though she was challenging, she was loving and caring.

“It filled a void in my life, even though it also put a lot of stress in my life.”

And a crushing coda, when Rachel died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 27.

Reading about the tragedies and woes heaped upon Jones and her family can be as exhausting as a marathon. She recalled how an uncle used to describe her father as luckless, so it seemed appropriate to ask Jones if she felt lucky herself.

“I do,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate, even with all the sadness. I’ve had great people in my life. It was amazing – every corner I turned, every bumpy pathway, I always came across somebody who helped me. Mr. Brink, the high school track coach. The church families who fed us. The neighbor who told me to get out and see what life had in store for me. Don Kardong, who really launched my career.

“I also consider myself lucky to have used everything I have and what life dished out to me to work harder, become more persistent. I wasn’t going to give up.”

That’s about as profound as an ambition needs to be.