The pain inside Peak to Peak's celebrated runner, Quinn McConnell, stretches far greater than any course. It's an ache that washes through her on every training run.

"I'm still learning about how to deal with grieving and competing and just living life," she said.

The four-time BoCoPreps.com girls cross country runner of the year added to her accolades over the fall in what has been another trying year for the McConnell family and the Peak to Peak community.

Rocked by the loss of Pumas runner Brandon Ries, who collapsed during a 5K race in 2016 and died, the community was shaken again when Ed McConnell — the father of Quinn and husband of Pumas coach Kim McConnell — suddenly died while walking down his street after a run in January.

His death was caused by a heart dysrhythmia, Kim said. The coach of the Pumas said the coroner told her that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent her husband's passing.

"The coroner said there's no way you could have known this would happen and there's really nothing you could have done even if it happened in the hospital," Kim McConnell said. "It was just a sudden electrical misfire."

And like that — and once again — nothing would be the same.

In the weeks and months after, Quinn continued to run. Last spring, she set out for her best track season yet. The hope was to run every race in near perfection as a fitting tribute to her late teammate and father.


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Instead her times wavered. The emotional toll set in.

"I would get on the starting line and put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted to make them proud and wanted to prove what I'm capable of. And I wanted to honor them in that way," said Quinn, who called college coaches that spring to explain why her times weren't where she thought they should be.

"And that's really hard to do that because there's a lot of things you can't control in races," she added. "It's really easy when they go well to say, 'Oh yeah, I did it for my dad and I did it for Brandon.' ... But it's also really hard when races don't go well and that's what you had."

"I had to shift my mentality."

In grief, she redefined what running was in her life.

She said she re-found the love of the sport, the love of competing, and the serenity that often comes in the awe of a Colorado trail run.

In it, she carries the memory of her dad and teammate. She said she honors Brandon's warm personality and his love of the sport. And she hopes to reflect her dad's teachings, his unwavering love and the examples of life he passed on.

Peak to Peak’s Quinn McConnell rode a roller coaster of emotions this season, following the sudden death of her father Ed McConnell in late December
Peak to Peak's Quinn McConnell rode a roller coaster of emotions this season, following the sudden death of her father Ed McConnell in late December 2017. (Isaiah J. Downing / For the Daily Camera)

She smiles in stride.

"The memory of my dad and Brandon are always my biggest motivators," she said. "Just remembering the lives that they had and the joy they found in being in Boulder, and being in the beauty and mountains, and just running, is just a continual reminder for me that I want to do this and want to do it this the best I can to honor them.

"I don't run to prove myself but to reflect the lives that they had."

Quinn couldn't add a third state title in the 3A state race last month and finished third. But her season was far from lost.

She won her fourth straight league and regional titles, and ran what was the nation's eighth-fastest time at 17:00.10 in September at the Desert Twilight Festival in Arizona. If only it was a couple hundredths of a second faster, she joked.

On Wednesday, she officially committed to Furman on national signing day. And on Saturday, she took fifth (17:15) at Nike Cross Regionals Southwest in Casa Grande, Ariz.

She does her best to push forward. It's unknown territory from here.

Her mom said Brandon Ries' dad put it best.

"He said if somebody sets an atomic bomb off in your front yard you can clean up, but it's never going to be the same again," Kim said. "It's a good analogy because things will never be the same. Things will never go back to the way they were. There really isn't a normal anymore when you lose your husband or your father.

Adding: "I think what you do is you keep learning to take the next step. And you do it with a lot of loved ones around you."

Brent W. New: bwnew@prairiemountainmedia.com and @brentwnew