The running community suffered a tragic loss on Monday when Jen Stec of Mocanaqua — a fixture at most area races since the early 1990s — died following a heart attack that she suffered on Saturday afternoon. She was 38.
Stec had raced earlier Saturday morning in the 3rd annual Catholic Youth Back Mountain Fall 5K Run in Dallas where she finished second among the females.
“She was a great person,” said John Martino, race director of the Catholic Youth 5K. “She supported our race all three years. I feel terrible. The Northeastern Pennsylvania running community lost a great runner today.”
Stec came onto the running scene locally when she won the 16-19 age group bracket at the Wyoming Valley Striders’ Cherry Blossom 5 Mile Run in Kirby Park in 1993. She would go on to win many races over the years.
Marina Orrson, the 22-year-old from Shavertown who broke Stec’s course record at the Catholic Youth 5K on Saturday, had nothing but good things to say about Stec.
“She was such a prominent part of the running community with all the races at all of the various distances she ran,” Orrson said. “She ran everything! She was incredibly dedicated to the sport. It’s devastating.”
Dan Pszeniczny, who won overall honors in Saturday’s 5K, said, “Every time I saw her at local races, she was always beaming, glowing with joy, enjoying nature and doing what she loved best. She’s going to be missed — like you can’t believe.”
Stec was best known for her love of trail runs. She won the Striders’ Spring Trail Run at Frances Slocum State Park six times (1995-99 and 2002). And she won the fall version of the trail run once (2003). She also competed in long distance trail races out of the area.
“I’m numb,” said Vince Wojnar, secretary/treasurer of the Wyoming Valley Striders and race director of the fall trail runs. “It’s a shock. It’s like when my wife died — I was numb for a week.”
If you look up to the sky, you’ll see Stec running in the clouds in the pack with other local runners who died way too young — Bernie Hargadon, George Moore, Jack Daniels, Kerry O’Neill, Eddie Kupstas, Tim Thomas and Chris Pszeniczny.
Stec was the daughter of Anthony and Coreen Stec, and sister to Jeffrey Stec. She marked some memorable personal moments by racing to victory.
She celebrated her 35th birthday at JCC 3-Mile Run in 2010.
“This was the icing on the cake,” she said after finishing in 20 minutes flat. “Today is my birthday - what a way to celebrate with a win!
“… (The) race was a good training run for me. I’m running in a 50 miler on May 8, the North Face Endurance Challenge (Highland Falls, N.Y). So I’m happy to have gotten in the good workout.”
Stec ran a 20:06 to win the women’s Benjamin August Memorial 3 Mile Run in 2011.
“Today is my mom’s birthday,” she said after the race. “And I dedicate this win to her.”