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‘A mother’s love’: For ForMak 5K organizers, support for record-setting event was ‘overwhelming’

A picture memorializing Makaili "Mak" Evans hangs within a pavilion Saturday at Lions Park in Cheyenne. Evans' mother, Janelle Jones, started the ForMak nonprofit in the wake of her son's death, drawing awareness toward and raising funds for improved crosswalk safety features around the state. (Briar Napier/Cap City News)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Janelle Jones, awake since 3 a.m. Saturday, wasn’t going to be stopping for a break anytime soon. Not on this day.

As the main string-puller behind the inaugural ForMak 5K event this weekend at Lions Park in Cheyenne, there was constant work to be done. People to greet and thank. Instructions to announce. It was a position no one wishes they would have to be in to begin with, but one Jones took on with full force and with her heart leading the way.

Jones is the mother of the event’s namesake, Makaili “Mak” Evans, a 13-year-old at McCormick Junior High that loved sports, hanging out with friends and being a lively, happy teenager. When Evans died Nov. 5 after being hit by a vehicle while walking along a crosswalk on his way to school that morning, the light of Jones’s life was gone in an instant.

It was a harrowing tragedy that rocked the community, a shock that will alter Jones’s life forever. But barely half of a year on from the incident, part of the change has included Jones’s sudden, powerful push to try and ensure what happened to her son doesn’t happen again.

And after one look at the sea of red T-shirts in support of ForMak’s mission as a nonprofit — to raise awareness and funds toward improving crosswalk safety features across Cheyenne and the state — Jones has an army of inspired community members that have her back.

The first edition of the ForMak 5K, which Jones said she aims to continue on as a yearly tradition, was a roaring success with hundreds showing up to run, walk or show support otherwise. Event partner (and Cheyenne running store) Foot of the Rockies reported it as largest 5K event ever recorded in the state of Wyoming.

Runners in the ForMak 5K race off the start line during the race Saturday at Lions Park in Cheyenne. (Briar Napier/Cap City News)

Jones said that over 650 people had registered for the 5K as of Friday night, not counting the sprawling line of same-day registrants that showed up to Lions Park on Saturday morning. She’s continually been appreciative of those who’ve stepped in to help ForMak however they can, but Jones noted that Saturday’s showing in particular was beyond anything she could’ve imagined.

“I cried at the starting line just because it was just so overwhelming with all of the love and support of my son,” Jones said. “Everybody here [came] to celebrate his life and to do something really great for our community at the same time. I just have no words … my heart wants to burst.”

Festivities began around 9 a.m., when Jones — identifiable by her bright red shoes to match her ForMak shirt — began pointing attendees to the race’s starting line not far from a pavilion that acted as the event’s home base. A mass of red followed those instructions and heard a 10-bell salute before the 5K began, an honorable tribute given to Evans for his participation in the Southside Sluggers Boxing Club in town.

Members of Southside Sluggers Boxing Club ring a 10-bell salute in honor of Makaili “Mak” Evans, a former member, prior to the ForMak 5K on Saturday at Lions Park in Cheyenne. Evans’s mother, Janelle Jones, can be seen as the far right individual in this photo. (Briar Napier/Cap City News)

The runners got the signal to go from Jones not long after that, running at their own pace throughout a course that weaved in and around Lions Park. Refreshments, food trucks and kid-friendly games and activities greeted finishers back at the pavilion, capped off by an auction that had proceeds given right back to ForMak.

Event volunteer Valerie Arias, Evans’s aunt, said that ForMak shirts ran out for late registrants and that people told her that they “couldn’t find a red shirt in Cheyenne” as support grew and grew. But beyond that, she spoke highly of Jones and her fight to make sure Evans is remembered, hoping along with her that positive change will come out of a horrible situation.

“Talk about grace under fire,” Arias said. “No other words. … She’s a mama bear in his life and in his death, you know? And it’s sad that I have to say it that way, but he was loved.”

“[Janelle] is such a perfect example of grace and faith. It’s an honor to watch her. She’s amazing.”

As Jones meets with leaders and lawmakers across the state, Mak Evans’s name won’t be forgotten anytime soon. In Jones’s mind, it can’t, not until ForMak helps the City of Cheyenne and Laramie County School District 1 update their Wyoming Safe Routes to School guidelines. Not until light flashers and other safety features are added to the city’s crosswalks. Not until — who knows — the state legislature takes action regarding the issue.

But until that day comes, ForMak will still hold its 5K event, still hold smaller-scale fundraisers, still be a loud voice in the area’s school safety scene.

If the pace Jones was going Saturday seemed rapid, just know that there’s more than enough left in her tank.

“I call it a mother’s love,” Jones said. “I would do anything for my kids. There isn’t anything; even though my son is not here, I’ll still continue to keep fighting for him and honor him.”

A #ForMak banner sits outside the ForMak 5K registration desk Saturday at Lions Park in Cheyenne. The inaugural race was held in honor of Makaili “Mak” Evans, 13, who was hit and killed by a vehicle while walking along a crosswalk to school Nov. 5 at McCormick Junior High. (Briar Napier/Cap City News)