COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH) – Runners all across Columbus are mourning the loss of a special member in their community.
Jason Zarate was going for his morning run down Avery Road in Dublin on Wednesday when he was hit by a car and killed.
The people close to him said they don’t want the community to remember Zarate for this tragedy but instead for the impact he left.
Jason Zarate’s friend Erin Arnett said he was the kind of person everyone wants in their life.
“It doesn’t matter if you are fast, if you are slow, if you are overweight, if you’ve got a disability – there is a place in the running community for you, and Jason can be the biggest testament of that,” Arnett said.
Arnett, who described Zarate as an overcomer, encouraging and loyal, said the community is at a loss for words.
In the past five years, Arnett said Zarate overcame a major weight loss battle, no longer drank alcohol, and ran through joint pains that doctors said would restrict his running.
She said he always put aside his personal struggles and made the choice to uplift others all the way to his final race on Saturday, the OhioHealth Capital City Half Marathon.
“We are always with each other at races,” Arnett said. “He crushed that 5k. Talk about going out guns blazing. He ran it in 28 minutes and was so proud of himself for that.”
The Columbus running community grew using Facebook groups during the pandemic as a way to support each other’s goals.
Zarate made daily social media posts about his running journey and left encouraging comments on others’ posts.
Fellow runner Sean Madigan said he could always feel Zarate was active in the group and never strayed from a positive attitude.
“I met him at one of the races last spring, and he came up to me and said ‘Hey, you’re Sean,’ and I said, ‘Hey, you’re Jason.’ So we talked a little bit before the race started,” Madigan said.
Madigan said he was devastated when he heard the news about Zarate and that he will miss his confident words.
“You see a lot of people responding to it where Jason had touched them in some way or form,” Madigan said.
Arnett said she is not sure what their “run family” will be like without him.
She said the group had a post-run dinner outing on Tuesday before Zarate died.
“We did our first one since the pandemic the night before he died,” Arnett said. “And we had six tables full of people out celebrating, and we ate our salads and I gave him a hug and I told him I love him and out we went. He knew I was proud of him.”
She said Zarate would want them to keep running so she plans to keep going one step at a time.
“I think moving forward with the run club, that’s the mission, right? To bring more Jasons in,” Arnett said.
The Columbus running community has organized a run in Zarate’s honor this Saturday at 8 a.m.
Runners can meet at the Columbus Running Company in Dublin – all are welcome to join.
Arnett said she hopes even those who aren’t the biggest runners will come out Saturday and honor Zarate’s life.
Zarate did not have a spouse or children. Arnett said their ‘run family” was their real family.