A bout with Parkinson’s disease seemed to end the unique running career of Jay Monfore, but through the Pierre Governors and Lady Govs, Monfore’s illustrious career lives on.
Monfore is not only the father of one of the Governors’ top runners, but he is also added inspiration for a team that has plenty of motivation.
Neither the Govs nor the Lady Govs have ever won a state title, fueling the fire to claim the gold. The urge to be the first Pierre team at the top of the stand is plenty of inspiration for Pierre but green and white’s real inspiration is winning one for Monfore.
A brilliant career cut short
The Governors and Lady Govs have never looked down at all of the competition on the stand but Jay Monfore is used to it.
The memorable career of Jay Monfore in the cross country ranks began in Miller. Monfore won the Class A cross country championship two times as a Rustler, as a sophomore in 1970 and a senior in 1972.
Being a two-time state champ is great, but it doesn’t make one a legend. Monfore was so much more than simply a two-time champ on the trails.
While Monfore was grinding out mile after mile in cross country, he was also giving Miller everything he had on the grid iron. His chances of winning the 1971 cross country championship were derailed by a football injury.
Monfore returned to both sports in 1972 and was named all state in football and won the individual cross country title, a distinction that few, if any others, have ever held in South Dakota.
How does a rare breed of athlete like Monfore prepare for overcoming the rigors of two sports? For Monfore, the answer was running across the state, literally.
Before his freshman and sophomore years, Monfore spent his summers running across South Dakota with Loren Kambestad of Rapid City. They began west of Spearfish at the Wyoming border and finished east of Brookings at the Minnesota border.
Monfore and Kambestad didn’t take the treks across the state for the attention; they simply wanted to see what they were capable of.
“We slept in a camper and ran 13.5 miles a day. We had never run that kind of distance before and we just wanted to see what happened to your body in terms of the cramping and the inflammation. It was mostly about learning our limits. Our main fuel was sugared down Kool-Aid; drinks like Gatorade weren’t around yet,” Monfore said. “Nobody really supported you until you were finished. We had to do all of our mechanics and our camper driver made our meals and did our wash. People probably thought we were hill billies with our clothes drying in the wind.”
After high school, Monfore joined the military and it was in the military in which he conquered his greatest challenge to that point.
Monfore and three others celebrated America’s bicentennial like no other in 1976. Monfore and his buddies ran 40 miles a day across the mountains of Italy, where they were stationed, tallying a total mileage of 1,182 miles.
“There were four of us who started on the Austrian-Italian Alps and we went right down the Alpines all the way down to Sicily. We did it to celebrate the bicentennial in 1977,” Monfore said.
Monfore had already accomplished the unthinkable but he soon had a battle much greater than the Alps.
Monfore’s toughest opponent
Monfore had taken care of the cross country competition in South Dakota as well as the rigors of running across a mountain range but his most grueling battle began 25 years ago.
It was 25 years ago when Monfore’s opponent came in the form of Parkinson’s disease, the same disease that had taken away his mother and her brother.
In the time since, there are good days for Monfore and there are bad and the disease was also the only thing that could put a premature end to his athletic career.
“Ever since Parkinson’s hit me, I haven’t been able to run. Parkinson’s makes everything more difficult. There are some days in which I can’t walk or talk and I need to use sleeping pills to sleep at night,” Monfore said.
The daily battle Monfore endures could be put into terms of what he went through years ago during his career, except there are no state championships or glory.
“The struggles Jay goes through can compare to distance running, it takes dedication for these kids to do what they do and it takes dedication for Jay to get up everyday but Jay doesn’t get medals around his neck. A personal record for him is being able to use a cane on a good day,” Pierre cross country coach Keith Christensen said.
Monfore still stayed connected with the running world though, especially when his son Matt proved that the talent may be hereditary.
“Watching Matt is almost like me being out there myself. I’m very proud of him. He’s battled through injuries and has still been very successful. It’s been great watching him,” Monfore said.
For Matt, his father left some pretty big shoes to fill but the senior contender uses his father’s career as an inspiration. Jay has battled to simply see Matt reach the finish line, making various races even more special for father and son.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve been told about my dad’s running career, which has been encouragement for me to go out and run. It’s hard sometimes to see what he’s going through because he has the desire, the will and passion to run. I believe that he gets joy seeing myself and others run. He’s the one dragging me out of the door instead of the other way around. I don’t know what the Lord has in store, but it’s humbling. I enjoy seeing the smile on his face when I cross the finish line,” Matt Monfore said.
Jay already had one family member on the cross country team; soon enough he had 36 family members on the cross country team.
Winning one for Jay
The Pierre Governors and Lady Govs finished the 2011 season just one person away from claiming the school’s first combined-state cross country title—that one person could be Jay Monfore.
Searching for a theme for the 2012 season, coach Keith Christensen remembered a man who had done it all throughout his career and continued to show that strength every day. Soon enough, the Governors and Lady Govs were wearing shirts that honor Monfore before every meet.
“Loren Kambestad is a good friend of mine, so I’ve known about Jay Monfore for a long time. To see a man be healthy and then go through what he is now has been an inspiration to me. We came up with the idea to honor him on our t-shirts that we wear to meets because of that,” Christensen said. “It sparks Jay and we just thought it was the right thing to do because of what he’s meant to South Dakota athletics. We have kids trying to do two sports so I felt he would be a perfect role model to the team.”
Having an entire team dedicate what could be a special season for them was something that meant the world to Monfore.
“It meant everything to me. I was elated for them to honor me on their shirts and dedicate the season to me. I was very proud of them last year; they were just one runner away from winning the combined title,” Monfore said.
Monfore hasn’t simply stayed in the background during the 2012 season. He’s embraced his role as one of the motivational figures to the team.
“He’s always a presence with the kids and I know that to be true because they would do anything for him,” Christensen said. “He’s given inspiration to all of us by just being there and caring. It’s a struggle for him to walk but he’s warmed up a couple of times before practice. The kids see it and it inspires them.”
The team has bought into Monfore’s presence to the degree that he is just as big of a part of the team as the coaching staff and the runners, just another member to the growing cross country family in the state’s capital.
“We are a family and Jay is a part of that. He’s one more component to our team. No matter how this season turns out, it feels like we did the right thing having Jay Monfore around these kids,” Christensen said.
The Governors are looking for their first conference title since 1997 while the Lady Govs hope to achieve the same feat for the first time since 1977.
Both teams will then set their sites on being the first Pierre team to win the state’s cross country title.
More importantly, the Governors and Lady Govs are looking to give Monfore one more championship to his lengthy résumé.
“Rewarding Jay Monfore is as or more important than winning that piece of wood with a trophy on it. He’s what it’s all about. He’s bonded with this group of kids,” Christensen said.
Win or lose the Governors and Lady Govs will certainly give it their all for Monfore and he will continue to do the same for them.