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Grandma's Marathon: Friends, family to honor David Forster's spirit after his death last year

David Forster Jr. died at the age of 27 last June, less than a week after helping his fiance, Abby Hansen, complete Grandma's Marathon, her first 26.2-mile race. Friends and family members will honor Forster by running Grandma's this weekend. (Submitted photo)

David Forster Jr. loved running.

He may have loved helping his friends run even more.

Which is why Forster attended the 2015 Portland Marathon. He wasn’t there to top his personal record — 2 hours, 37 minutes and 8 seconds, set at Grandma’s Marathon in 2015 — but rather to assist three buddies attempting 26.2 miles for the first time. When two of them approached the finish, Forster doubled back on the course to get the third, Andy Clasen, and help him across.

“We’ve heard a million stories since he passed about how he helped individual runners,” his mother, Sandy Forster of Minnetonka, Minn., said by phone Monday.

Less than a week after pacing his fiancé, Duluth native Abby Hansen, through her first marathon — at Grandma’s last June — Forster collapsed and died near the end of an eight-mile workout in Northeast Minneapolis. He was 27.

Forster was just starting to ramp up his training for the Chicago Marathon, where he hoped to slice more than two minutes off his PR and get below 2:35. Despite his speed, Forster was delighted to train with Hansen last spring and accompany her along the North Shore. They both came through in 4:26:41.

“That was pretty special,” Hansen, a 2008 Duluth East graduate, said. “It’s something I’ll always cherish.”

After the race, Hansen picked out her wedding dress. She and Forster were to marry this past New Year’s Eve in Duluth.

Instead, a week later he was gone, the victim of a heart virus known as acute lymphocytic myocarditis. There were no warning signs.

A quiet leader who shunned attention, Forster was a goal-oriented cross country and track standout at both Hopkins (Minn.) High School and St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. He was passionate about the Green Bay Packers and Nike shoes.

Music, too. He listened to a little bit of everything. Except country.

“If he had met you once, he’d probably be sending you a playlist of your favorite music that he’d think you would like based on what you told him,” Sandy Forster said.

A contingent of 30-40 friends and family members will honor Forster this weekend at Grandma’s. Many will run — either the marathon or the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon — while others cheer. Almost all will be wearing their “Dave” shirts, which feature his first name on the front. Inside each letter are words that describe Forster. On the back is a silhouetted image of the St. John’s cross country team, with Forster, outlined in gold, leading the pack.

Above the image are the words “forever Forster” and below it is a quote from Steve Prefontaine: “I run best when I run free.”

“He left a big imprint on all of us,” Hansen said. “He’s with us every day, and he’ll be with us at Grandma’s.”

So big was that imprint that more than 2,000 people filled the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis for Forster’s funeral last June 30. His parents were blown away. They knew their son was a “good kid,” but they never realized the magnitude of his impact.

“We had no idea how such an unassuming, relatively quiet young man could affect so many people,” his father, Dave Forster, said. “So many people would have a story about David and how many lives he affected. We were really taken back.”

One of those stories was particularly telling. Kurtis Nusbaum was a college teammate of Forster’s. While Forster frequently could be found out front among the leaders, Nusbaum was a little slower, in it primarily for the camaraderie. He liked being part of a team.

He had an ally in Forster.

“David apparently was a big influence on him feeling good about himself,” Sandy Forster said. “He told us at the wake, ‘David would be the kind of guy that if he wanted me to drop everything and be with him I would do it because he did that for me once, and it saved my life.’ ”

That wouldn’t surprise those who knew Forster.

“You saw people just gravitate toward him,” Clasen said. “He had natural leadership.”

It was Nusbaum who carried Forster’s bib across the Chicago Marathon finish line in October. Forster had registered for the event before his death. Nusbaum and friends Pat Sitzer and Matt Clasen, Andy’s brother, ran in his memory, taking turns with the bib. Sitzer, whose time that day was 3:18:31, started with it before handing it off to Clasen (3:27:47), who eventually passed it to Nusbaum (3:55:34).

They took a page out of Forster’s book and helped him finish the race.

Forster worked for four years at Target after college, until leaving to join his mom’s company, Little Pepper Promotions. He had two brothers, Max and Sam.

He was a gifted athlete, whether it was pick-up basketball or football, or cross-country skiing. He could try something once and be good at it. Like marathoning. There’s no telling how much time he could have shaved off that 2:37:08, but he would have given it heck.

“He was a determined person,” Hansen said. “He was Superman, in my eyes.”

Hansen is running the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon on Saturday. Their group includes a number of folks who never would have considered pounding the pavement for 13.1 or 26.2 miles.

They’re doing it because of Forster.

In other words, he’s still helping people run.

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