Family, friends gather for 10th anniversary since student’s death during Bearathon

Daniel was dressed as Popeye for Halloween one year, holding a can of green beans with him throughout the night. Photo courtesy of Randall Fowler

By Ana Ruiz Brictson | News Editor

When Bearathon runners cross the finish line this Saturday, many likely will not realize what Daniel Jones, the name attached to the end of the line, means for the traditional race. This year’s half marathon marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Daniel, a student who collapsed yards away from the finish line and died approximately an hour later at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center.

Ten years after his death, Daniel continues to make an impact on many people’s lives. His uncle, Dana Jones, said via email this year, friends, family and former and current members of Kappa Omega Tau — the fraternity Daniel was a member of — will be gathering at 6 p.m. Friday at George’s.

“George’s was Daniel’s favorite place in Waco, so we always have dinner there the night before the Bearathon,” Dana said. “There will be about 30 to 35 people there.”

Throughout Daniel’s life, Dana said he went through several hardships. Daniel never got to know his father. At a young age, he contracted an infection in his left eye that caused blindness. Later on, he developed alopecia universalis — a condition that causes hair loss — and was bullied for it. Daniel also lost his mother at a young age due to a drunken driving accident, and he lost both of his grandparents in less than a year amid his time at Baylor.

“Through it all, he never let his adversity define him,” Dana said. “He had a positive attitude and made the best of everything. He played baseball, football and wrestled. Daniel always had a smile to share with anyone.”

Photo courtesy of Dana Jones
Daniel was an avid Bear and was proud to be a part of the Baylor family. Photo courtesy of Dana Jones

Randall Fowler, one of Daniel’s best friends at Baylor, said he became friends with Daniel during the fall semester of their freshman year and became even closer as they pledged KOT together. Fowler said while they were pledging, he was tasked with waking his friend up every morning, as Daniel was also diagnosed with narcolepsy — a disorder that impacts the brain’s ability to control sleep.

“I bonded with him during that time,” Fowler said. “It was my first experience waking him up. After that, we became roommates for three of the next four years.”

Fowler said his last memory of Daniel was the night before the Bearathon in 2013. He said he and his best friend played board games, and Fowler later helped Daniel move his truck so it would not get towed when the city set up for the half marathon the next morning.

Daniel and his family at a baseball game together. Photo courtesy of Dana Jones
Daniel and his family at a baseball game together. Photo courtesy of Dana Jones

“I remember walking down with him to help move his truck, and we drove it back to where he was living, and I think it was about midnight,” Fowler said. “The next time I saw him, it was at the hospital. He wasn’t there anymore.”

Fowler said although he is gone, Daniel’s life had and still has a lot of meaning.

After nearly four years, Fowler said this is the first time he will be heading back to Waco for the Bearathon. Since the last time he was there, he has gotten married, and he said he will be bringing his wife with him.

Additionally, Fowler said Daniel was a big fan of Coca-Cola. During a service project they participated in, he said Daniel found a collection of 100 old Classic Coke bottles, and instead of allowing his partners to recycle them, Daniel took all of them home, washed them and lined his wall with them.

“One of the traditions I had early on, was I would go by our old house, or I might go by his grave in the cemetery at North Richland Hills, and I would dump out a little bit of Coke for him,” Fowler said.

Since March 23, 2013, Dana said Student Foundation — the organization that hosts the Bearathon — reserves Daniel’s bib number from the race, 287, for his family to wear. He said KOT still has members running for him even though they no longer have any direct connection to him. Also, the finish line of the race is named after him, and Baylor has since created a scholarship in his name.

Photo courtesy of Dana Jones
Daniel's family and friends pose at the finish line after racing in the Bearathon in Daniel's honor. Photo courtesy of Dana Jones

“The anniversary is a time for us to celebrate the inspired life he led,” Dana said. “But it is also a reminder of that day. … It is amazing to see the impact that Daniel has made on people and what they are willing to do to honor [and] celebrate him.”

Dana said one of Daniel’s cousins will be flying in from Germany for the Bearathon and will be running for Daniel along with another family member and numerous KOT brothers.

Daniel faced his challenges head-on with all that he had and our God at his side,” Dana said. “He loved the kids in the family, collected Beanie Babies in his youth and Coca-Cola stuff as he grew. His death hit me really hard.”

Photo courtesy of Dana Jones
Daniel loved his growing family. Photo courtesy of Dana Jones

Before the half marathon begins, during the safety briefing, Dana said Student Foundation will be presenting a short reading and taking time to remember Daniel.

“He was such an amazing young man — always had a smile to share with strangers and big bear hugs for those he knew,” Dana said.