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Run2Believe memorial for Maize High sweethearts draws 750 runners

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 6:03 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 6:19 p.m.

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On Saturday, an annual 5K run and walk honoring Maize High School sweethearts killed by a drunken driver pulled in about 250 more runners than the year before.

But the mother of Kyle Thornburg – who on March 23, 2011, was killed along with his girlfriend Kylie Jobe when the car they were driving was struck head-on by a vehicle driven by Joseph Pena, 27, who was driving the wrong way on I-70, near Wilson – said the higher number of race participants wasn’t a priority.

“Honestly, I’d be happy if 100 people came to honor these kids,” Robin Thornburg said Saturday, after the Run2Believe event wrapped up at Maize High.

Emily Gerstner, Run2Believe’s founder and race director, said that in all, 750 runners participated in the 3.1-mile-long race in Maize, just northwest of Wichita.

“We’re really blessed with friends, friends of friends, and people who believe in the cause,” said Barby Jobe, Kylie’s mother, when asked about her reaction to this year’s participation.

Kyle Thornburg and Kylie Jobe attended Maize High together and continued to date in college. Jobe was a 20-year-old sophomore at Oklahoma State University and Thornburg was a 22-year-old student at Wichita State University.

Barby Jobe, who participated in this year’s run, said the event makes the anniversary of her daughter’s death easier to deal with.

“It makes what’s a really hard week for me a bright spot,” she said.

That was a big goal for Gerstner, who said she is “really close” to the Jobe and Thornburg families.

“We wanted to have something uplifting to do,” Gerstner said in coming up with the idea for Run2Believe.

In three years, she said, the race has raised $35,000.

The money supports three things: the Kyle Thornburg Memorial Fund at the Maize Education Foundation, which provides scholarships to Maize students; the Kylie Jobe Endowment at the Oklahoma State University Foundation, which provides an annual scholarship to a sophomore Gamma Phi Beta at OSU; and drunken driving awareness and prevention activities, including speakers and alcohol-free after-prom activities at Maize high schools.

On Wednesday and Thursday, for instance, Run2Believe has arranged for Jared Estes to speak to students at Maize and Maize South high schools. Estes was severely injured and his wife killed in 2005 when the car they were in was rear-ended by a drunken driver.

Barby Jobe and Robin Thornburg said it’s especially important to them that the race and the activities it funds gets the message out to teens – and adults – that the consequences of driving while drunk affect a long line of people.

“Kyle and Kylie’s friends, it had an immediate impact on them,” Robin Thornburg said.

Kristina Rotunno, who was Kylie’s best friend, said she no longer drinks alcohol on New Year’s Eve so she can be a designated driver for her friends. And when she does decide to go out and drink, “I make sure we have a DD (designated driver),” Rotunno said.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said Pena, the Corpus Christi, Texas, man whose car struck Thornburg and Jobe’s car, had an alcohol level of .213 at the time of the accident. The legal limit is .08. Pena, a father of two children, also was killed in the crash.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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