Local runner bounced through life
By By Matthew Nascone
Melissa Garrett was given the award every cross country runner at Northview High School will covet in the future. She received the inaugural Junmi Ross Award at the NHS Small Sports Banquet Nov. 9.
The award is the brain child of NHS cross country coach Natalie Nelson. It is named for the deceased wife of fellow cross country coach and NJROTC instructor Maj. Jim Ross.
"I wanted to do something in honor of Junmi for what she meant to me, but mainly for what she meant to Jim," Nelson said. "I was trying to come up with ideas and I threw out a T-shirt and then I thought about a plaque. And we could find the runner that resembles the qualities Junmi had."
Nelson said the speed a runner finishes a race does not matter when it comes to the award.
"We were looking for the runner who was not complaining and was always excited to run," Nelson said. "We wanted that runner who had the joy for running. Not the fastest runner, but the one out there with a full heart. And we hope our runners we want to earn this award each year."
Ross said the idea of full heart came from Junmi's desire to finish a task and never quit. He said she always wanted to do more and she picked up the sport of running marathons and never quit any of them.
Ross met Junmi in 1986 and did not see her for almost 20 years until they met at a race, of all places. The Big Lagoon Race in 2004 reunited the two people and they later were married. But Ross said he woke up one day and he realized he had lost his wife.
"She went to bed the night before and she never woke up," Ross said. "It was tragic because she was my life. I am a basket case without her."
That day was July 8, 2006.
Ross said their marriage was successful because of many things, one of those being that they had so many common interests. He said it would take him a complete day to write down all of those things. But Nelson said there was one thing that she said is the reason they were perfect for each other.
"When they met, he said he knew she was the right one because he carries his Constitution in his back pocket and she said grabbed hers out of her purse and said 'Here's mine,'" Nelson said. "And I just thought that was the cutest thing ever."
"She is the only person I have met who carries a copy of the Constitution with her," Ross said.
And the similar interests go on and on for the Jim and Junmi.
The award is meant to embody the great qualities of a great woman.
"She was one of those types of people who walks into a room and the room is lit up with her energy," Nelson said.
Junmi's favorite character was Tigger the Tiger from Winnie the Pooh and her friends and family describe her in much the same way, bouncy and energetic.
"She was always bouncing around and everyone around her loved her because of her energy and who she was," Nelson said.
Ross said he would always remember and admire how Junmi went about living her life.
"She never walked around anywhere," Ross said. "She bounced places. If you didn't know how old she was and you didn't get within 15 feet of her, you would say she was 15 years old. She skipped and bounced through life. She had the wisdom for the ages and enough smarts for two people.
Junmi did everything with her husband and she was a software project manager at Delphi Technology. She also volunteered at Northview as a substitute teacher and she ran in many marathons in her life.