Runners hope to put fallen friend’s son through college

abeam@thestate.comNovember 14, 2013 

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    Jake Zeman, a 35-year-old runner from Columbia, died Saturday while running the Rock ’n’ Roll Savannah Marathon, leaving behind his wife, Erin, and their 2-year-old son, Jack. Friends of Zeman, along with the Competitor Group, the company that owns the marathon, have set up a 529 College Savings Plan for Jack. To contribute, visit www.jackzemancollegefund.org, a website that should be up and running by 3 p.m. Friday.

— Will Britt and Jake Zeman went to war on the weekends, punishing their bodies on asphalt battlefields for miles and miles in an effort to outrun fatigue, fear and age.

On Saturday, Zeman’s battle took a tragic turn.

The 35-year-old Columbia man was on pace to finish the Rock ’n’ Roll Savannah Marathon in three hours and 45 minutes – a personal best – when he collapsed as he neared the finish line. Zeman died from an undetected heart condition.

Zeman left behind his wife, Erin, their 2-year-old son, Jack, and thousands of Columbia runners shocked by the news that a 35-year-old in great shape could die during a run.

Now Britt – along with fellow runners Jeff Godby, Karen Snyder and their spouses – have organized a way for them and runners across the country to honor Zeman: a college fund for Zeman’s 2-year-old son.

“Our goal is to ensure that Jake’s son, Jack, has the future he would have had if his father were still here,” Britt said.

Godby, who along with Britt and Snyder trained with Zeman on the Trenholm Road Runners, said the college fund was the perfect way to honor Jake Zeman.

“When you say he was a loving father, that doesn’t even touch what kind of a father he was,” Godby said. “He adored his kid. He made all of us look kind of bad about how good of a dad he was.”

Donations to the college fund – a 529 College Savings Plan – will be accepted starting today about 3 p.m. The website, jackzemancollegefund.org, was built by the Competitor Group, a sports marketing and management company that owns the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon brand.

Josh Furlow, Competitor’s senior vice president, said there has been “an outpouring of support” from the Savannah race’s 18,500 participants, many “asking, ‘What can they do?’” The company used one of its subsidiaries – Race IT, an online registration tool – to build the website and set up the fundraising platform.

“Jack will never know his father, but through your giving, he will know his father’s heart and that he was well loved,” according to a message posted on the website.

Furlow said the company plans to promote the website through its media partners.

“Seeing a family that has so much hurt from a tragic situation, but then you start thinking and looking around saying, ‘What can we do as an organization to help out?’” Furlow said.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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