Mike Jackson loved to watch his daughter Karissa, 16, compete on the Juneau-Douglas High School cross-country and track teams. Jackson loved taking photographs with his daughter Kacey, 14, or watching her play basketball and volleyball at Floyd Dryden Middle School, and he loved spending time with his wife Anissa and extended family.
As a volunteer for last year's Aukeman Triathlon, Jackson was attracted to the camaraderie, and decided to train and participate in this year's event for his family.
During Saturday's annual triathlon, Mike, the man with the huge smile, was on his daughter Karissa's shoulder as she stroked through the water of Auke Lake, was next to her bike as she sped toward the Mendenhall Glacier, and was matching her stride for stride as they ran out of the University of Alaska Southeast onto Glacier Highway and back through Auke Lake Trail.
"I was thinking about how my dad would be proud of me for actually getting out and doing this," Karissa said. "We ran a lot together. He always encouraged me to do my best and I could look up to him and count on him to be there for me."
Mike even found time to be next to Kacey as she snapped photo after photo of family members in the event while nieces and nephews enthusiastically paced the runners the final few yards.
"He trained for this, like, every day," Kacey said. "He was so intense. We used to run together and bike to the glacier. He always cared about what we were doing. I miss him a lot, but I know he will see this and be happy for us."
On March 2, after finishing his triathlon workout and waiting in the parking lot of the Dimond Park Field House for Karissa to finish her track practice, Mike Jackson, 42, suffered a fatal heart attack due to a blocked artery.
"We lost our husband, son-in-law, brother, and father," sister-in-law Tamala Booton said as she stood along the triathlon course watching for familiar faces to encourage. Her husband Daren was competing, as were brother-in-laws Jayme and Jeffery Johns.
"He was training for this," Booton said. "He didn't know he had a health problem. He was always out doing something, so we all wanted to do this for him."
Clad in matching black and orange tee shirts depicting Jackson's favorite sports team, the Oregon State Beavers, Team Jackson, over 20 members strong, was along the finish stretch cheering on every competitor like Mike would have stood with wife Anissa and cheered the local club and high school teams or the Hoop Time teams he helped coach.
"Mike was so proud of all of his family and so thankful," Anissa said "He is absolutely watching us right now, absolutely. He was always active, always out doors or playing games."
Two hours, 14 minutes and eight seconds after the start of the Aukeman Triathlon began, the final athlete, Daren Booton, finished the course ... and his brother-in-law Mike was right there. Booton, deathly afraid of water, learned to swim a month ago just to enter the event.
"I don't know if that's what to call what I did out there," Booton laughed. "But I never would have done this without him, never. I was thinking a lot about him today, and his smile."
Booton definitely wasn't the fastest in his dry flotation suit, bobbing in the water on his back, making weak sweeping motions with his arms and staring up into the sky... but his inspiration, Mike Jackson was looking down to cheer him on.
Contact Klas Stolpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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