FRENCHTOWN – If the packs of Saturday morning runners looked a bit more purposeful than usual, a glance at the name on their race bibs explained all.
“Running for Sherry” referred to Sherry Arnold, the Sidney schoolteacher who disappeared in January after she left for an early morning jog. Her body has not been found, but the FBI has told her family that she is dead – and two Colorado men have been arrested and charged with kidnapping.
In her memory, Arnold’s family invited fellow runners all across the country to a “virtual run” Saturday. The idea went wild.
“This is everywhere,” Jeri Amundsen said as a crowd gathered outside Frenchtown High School a little before 9 a.m. “Bart Yazzo, the chief of Runner’s World, has it on his Facebook page.”
More than 90 people, wearing a mix of spandex and down, racing sneakers and waffle-stompers, took part in the 1- and 3-mile Runs for Sherry in Frenchtown on Saturday. So did dozens more in Missoula, Lolo, Butte, Billings and almost anyplace else where runners share a communal bond.
“I knew her when she was Sherry Whitehed,” Lowell Hochhalter said as he bounced to stave off the morning chill. “Sherry’s husband was a teacher of mine. I was just going to do the run today with my family, but this all came together pretty fast. It seemed like a natural fit for all of us.”
Frenchtown High cross-country coach Dennis Normand said he heard about the virtual run from his sister, and then bounced the idea off his students.
“The kids in my classes said it would be fun, and then I started hearing from former students in Texas and California. It’s not just a Montana run. It’s a national event. We’re just doing it as a community.”
And maybe a little more. There were no timers at Running for Sherry. No funds were raised or ribbons were worn. You could run or walk (and on Saturday’s icy paths, many chose a combination of the two).
But many participants said the virtual run was a way to push back against the fear that Arnold’s disappearance seeded.
“I think that whole thing made a big impact on people,” said retired teacher Janice Knopik. “When you’re out hiking or walking, you’ve got to be aware of your surroundings. It put a scare into me that this could happen in Frenchtown or Ninemile, just like it happened in the oil boomtown.”
To that end, Knopik said the virtual run resembled the anti-rape “Take Back the Night” marches that let communities declare their support for safety and neighborliness.
So on Saturday, runners everywhere headed for the pavement, with Sherry Arnold’s portrait pinned to their togs and her memory close to their hearts.