Running on Faith: Two runners honor the legacy of a West Fargo cross country star

"She had a great faith with God through her journey, and honestly, I'm just out here running on faith," said Schwab.

FARGO, N.D. — In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Kelly Breidenbach rocked the Cross Country world in North Dakota.

In 1988, she and her teammates would help win the Eastern Dakota Conference State Cross Country Championship for the West Fargo Packers.

“She was the one we always looked up to. She was the leader,” said Staci Birrenkott, a former teammate of Kelly.

While running may be the gift she was known for to most people, to her family, her 7 children, and her friends, it was her dedication to them that really made Kelly special.

“She was my role model, I even named my baby doll after her, and I hope to give it to my kids one day,” said Mya Schwab, Kelly’s niece.

Her faith was also something that most people remembered her for.

“She had a very strong faith, and she amazed me with her courage, and her strength, and her faith,” said Birrenkott.

“Even in High School when she was running, she would say the rosary and talk to her teammates about prayer and about God,” said her sisters, Stacy Schwab and Shannon Williams, “We were amazed at all of the people that reached out to Kelly and talked to her about how Kelly had changed their lives, and most of that was because of Kelly’s faith.”

In 2019, tragedy struck, and Kelly was diagnosed with Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer.

“The first thing I did was I reached out to her, and told her, I knew what she was feeling, as a survivor. I told her I was praying for her, put on my running shoes, and went running for her that morning,” said Birrenkott, who survived breast cancer.

As soon as Mya and Staci found out about the diagnosis, they decided to run a full marathon at the Fargo Marathon, dedicating it to Kelly, even if they had to run it virtually.

“Even though I know Kelly won’t be there to give me a hug at the end, I know she’ll be there with me every step of the way,” said Mya.

“I think about her a lot when I’m out running, and just her fight, and her battle, and just how much strength she had,” said Birrenkott, “And it gives me strength when I’m running.”

Kelly passed away six months after receiving her diagnosis in February of 2020.

In her honor, the rest of her family decided to host a 5K and Ice Cream social, to celebrate two things Kelly loved: Ice Cream and Running.

“She loved running, and she really loved her family, so getting together and knowing that we’re still here for each other is great,” said Schwab.

And while running a marathon isn’t easy, with Kelly watching over them, Mya and Staci knew they could finish it.

“She had a great faith with God through her journey, and honestly, I’m just out here running on faith,” said Schwab.

Mya finished the Fargo Marathon in four hours and seven minutes, and Staci finished the marathon in four hours and 32 minutes.

Kelly McDonald Breidenbach Memorial Scholarship has been set up in Kelly’s name for one West Fargo senior cross country or track female runner.

Categories: Community, Health, Local News, North Dakota News