ST. PETERSBURG — They felt him as if he was the wind at their backs. About 7,000 runners and walkers took part in the inaugural Skyway 10K on Sunday morning. Sharon and Eddie Gonzalez of Clearwater were among them.
But at one point, atop the iconic span, 200 feet above Tampa Bay, as the moon disappeared and the sun rose, Sharon and Eddie felt their son at their side.
"It was as close as we could get to him in heaven," Eddie said.
Sharon and Eddie ran Sunday for their oldest son, Jared. He went out for a midnight run a few years ago. He never came back. He was 23. His face was on the T-shirts his parents had made for Sunday's race.
It wasn't the easiest of 10Ks, an up-down trek. There's more. Eddie, who is a software developer, has been legally blind, with no central vision, since a hereditary disease robbed him as a teenager. Sharon is still recovering from a bicycle accident three years ago that tore her right knee to pieces. Surgery and a long rehab. That's why she walked Sunday. But she was going to make it.
"We were both going to make it," Eddie said.
Eddie and Sharon could talk about Jared all day. Jared the star student at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. Jared the cross country runner, the weightlifting captain, Jared of the body sculpted to perfection. Jared the heathy eater. When Jared went in, it was always all in.
"And that smile," Sharon said. "That's what we remember most."
"It could light the world," Eddie said.
He was Jared, whom his mother called "Jaries." He was Jared, who tutored children in algebra at the local library. He was Jared the nurturer, who could listen to his friends all day and help them with their problems. He was Jared the homemaker, who took care of the cooking and cleaning while his mother recovered from her accident. And he was Jared the student, who went off to NYU in New York City, pre-med.
But he left NYU after one year. He took a job as a server at a restaurant, but was thinking of going back to school.
"He was trying to figure things out," Eddie said.
"But he never lost his heart and soul," Sharon said.
It's still hard for them to talk about that June night in 2016. Jared, as best they can figure, went for a run after midnight, with his parents and younger brother, Justin, already in bed.
Eddie, who works out of his house, didn't see Jared the following morning, or afternoon. He began to call around to Jared's friends. Justin found Jared's driver license in Jared's car. Eddie and Sharon contacted police, who told them to first check with local ambulance services. Later that night, a state trooper came to the Gonzalez home.
"He told us there had been an accident and that it was bad," Eddie said.
The family made its way to Bayside Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Jared had been struck by a car just three blocks from home. Witnesses said he walked against the light. The driver was never charged.
The vigil lasted a few days, hugs and tears, but no good signs. On Saturday, June 18, 2016 – Eddie's birthday – Jared was taken off life support.
"We saw his last breath," Sharon said.
"Good night, baby, I love you," Eddie told his son.
Eddie saw something about the Skyway race early last December, on what would have been Jared's 25th birthday.
"I knew we had to do it," he said.
And that they did Sunday morning. They made it across the Skyway. Nothing crazy, no blistering pace, just a mom and dad on top of the bridge, just a little closer to their son.
"A couple of times I looked at my shirt, at him, and said, 'That's my boy,'" Eddie said.
He turned and buried his head in his wife's shoulder.
It really was a beautiful sunrise. The view from the Skyway was incomparable.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029