Green team hitting the streets to honor brother, friend
Kerry McKay, left, Kari Wackler, McKinly Kramer, Caitlin MacMillen and Bobbi Miles sit Thursday in the Sentinel High School Garden. Miles and four of her friends, one of whom is not pictured, are running the Missoula Half-Marathon in memory of her brother, Keaton Miles, who died last year in a car accident. Kramer, 11, Miles' cousin, rode her bike alongside the women to give them water during training runs.
Photo by ASHLEY McKEE/Missoulian

They'll be the girls in green in the Missoula Half Marathon Sunday morning.

Make that lime green, or roughly the color of the Ninja sport bike Keaton Miles used to buzz around on.

It's the same color as the hundreds and hundreds of wristbands that bear the initials "KM" and the inscription "Heaven Couldn't Wait."

Miles, a 2005 Missoula Sentinel graduate, died early July 16, 2007, on his way to a job site in Hamilton. His pickup drifted off Highway 93 near Victor and hit a tree.

Now his older sister and four friends are running 13.1 miles through Missoula in his memory.

"At the end of the race, I'll know that he helped me get through it. I don't know if I could do it without him," Bobbi Miles said.

They've collected donations - $2,812 worth at last count - for a fund in Keaton's name for kids who want to do some of the things he used to do but can't afford it.

Bobbi, Kari Wackler, Caitlin MacMillen, Alyson Zieg and Kerry McKay will be at the starting line of the Missoula Half Marathon course on Blue Mountain Road at 6 a.m.

With a little determination, a lot of cheering from friends, family and supporters along the route, and the spirit of Keaton to bolster them, they'll finish at the Higgins Avenue Bridge in downtown Missoula between 2 1/2 and three hours later.

"He'll be carrying us along. About the 10-mile mark we'll need him," his sister said.

Of the five, only MacMillen has a running background. She ran track at Sentinel, excelling in the 400 meters until her graduation in 2004. She was also an honorable mention all-state volleyball for the Spartans.

Zieg and Bobbi Miles played basketball and volleyball. Wackler played a bit of volleyball. McKay was a cheerleader.

"This is actually the longest I've run ever in my entire life, probably combined," Miles said.

MacMillen, who graduated from the University of Portland in May, trained for the Portland Marathon last year. A hamstring injury knocked her out a month before the race.

"I really want to run a marathon, absolutely," she said. "But I could only convince these guys to go a half."

That's OK, though. The girls have been able to train together since MacMillen came up with the idea.

"It's very powerful to start something together and go through the whole journey together and finish it together, especially when we're doing it for somebody else," she said. "I'm not even running it for myself."

All the young women except Zieg, who recently moved to Seattle, took a 10-mile jaunt up the Rattlesnake and back last Sunday.

It was their longest training run.

"It actually wasn't bad," Bobbi Miles said. "I was surprised. It seems like the longer you go the easier it is."

Memories of Keaton and the way he lived his life motivate the girls, who were all a year ahead of him at Sentinel except his sister, who was two years ahead.

"He was so outgoing and fun-loving, and he loved everyone that he knew," Bobbi said. "He was, like, the easiest person to get along with. He would talk to anyone, just pick some conversation about whatever. And he was hilarious. He was so funny."

The photo on the fundraising Web site - www.active.com/donate/keatonmiles - is fitting. Keaton jams ecstatically on Guitar Hero, the Xbox game, something he was quite good at, Bobbi said.

The picture also points out the incongruity of his nickname "Tubba."

"That came from baseball. My dad (Louie) always gives us random nicknames," said Bobbi. "One day he yelled on the field, 'Go Tubba,' and it stuck like glue. It's ironic. He'd be, like, the skinniest guy out there."

"He's had that nickname for probably 15 years," said Debbie Miles, Keaton and Bobbi's mother. "Everybody knew him by Tubba. All through high school they called him Keaton 'The Clown' Miles-slash-Tubba."

The family hasn't recovered from its loss.

"It'll be a year next week," said Debbie, fighting back a sob. "When he passed away, it was such a shock. We wanted to keep his memory alive by doing something, and helping out other children, because Keaton just loved life and he was so active in all different sports and activities. He loved being outdoors, hunting, fishing and camping."

Friends of Keaton came up with the wristband idea not long after his death. Louie and Debbie Miles paid for a few of them and got the ball rolling.

"We ended up buying a few batches because they sold out so quickly," Debbie said.

They're on wrists across Missoula, but are also worn by relatives in California and former strangers the Mileses met on a Caribbean cruise in February.

"We ran into individuals who had been in our situation and they wanted a wristband," Debbie Miles explained.

So far, some 1,100 Keaton wristbands have been sold and the proceeds deposited into the "Heaven Couldn't Wait" fund. Bobbi and her older sister, Jenny, came up with the name.

The fund is administered through Friends of Missoula Parks, a nonprofit, and Helen Rolston-Clemmer, the board treasurer. Anyone who wants one can contact Debbie or Louie Miles at 531-9606.

Keaton was involved with Young Life, a Christian group that sponsors summer camps, and some of the money raised has already sent a youngster to camp.

Other funds will pay Little League registration fees, or buy team photos, equipment and other costs for kids who otherwise wouldn't be able to participate.

"Anything Keaton would have wanted the funds to go to, we feel we should give back, and not just let his memory die," Debbie Miles said.

Bobbi and friends have set a goal of $3,000 to raise for their half-marathon run. Two contribution amounts are available on the Web site - $13.10 (or a buck a mile) or "other." Donations after the fact are more than welcome, Bobbi said.

Debbie Miles is grateful to MacMillen for coming up with the idea, and for talking the others into going along with it.

"We've turned nonrunners into runners, so it's been great," MacMillen said. "The Miles family is just so giving and so loving. They've turned a tragic event into something that's positive for youth in Missoula. I think that takes a lot of strength."

Beyond the physical challenge of running so far, it'll be an emotional Sunday morning for all concerned.

"The closer it gets to one year, it just seems harder and harder," Debbie Miles admitted. "It's just really not real. We're so lonesome for Keaton. When you're so used to talking to your children every single day, and seeing them almost every single day, it's just a real shock when you can't see them."

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com

How to donate

You can mail a donation to the Heaven Couldn't Wait Fund in memory of Keaton Miles to Friends of Missoula Parks Inc., The Heaven Couldn't Wait Fund/Keaton Miles, 12 Contour Road, Missoula, MT 59802. For information, click on www.active.com/donate/keatonmiles, or contact board treasurer Helen Rolston-Clemmer at 549-2159, or Keaton's parents, Louie and Debbie Miles, at 531-9606.

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