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'We conquered this 100 miles together': 5 years after her children's tragic deaths, mom completes ultramarathon

"Reagan's at my right, Grant's at my left," Karen Sparks said. "And God's at my back. Nothing can stop me."

One hundred miles. That's longer than the drive from Dallas to Waco. It's also longer than a trip from Dallas to Fort Worth, back to Dallas, and back to Fort Worth again. 

Now imagine running that far. 

Karen Sparks is an ultramarathoner. She has a unique soul, but also a unique purpose.

"In ultra-running, you have to have a 'why'," Karen said. "Well, Reagan and Grant are my 'why.'"

Reagan and Grant are her children, taken from Karen at 8 and 9 years old in an act of evil.

"I can't believe, truly, that this is my life," Karen said. "I wake up every day to a nightmare."

Contentious divorce turns violent

It was five years ago that Karen was going through a bitter divorce with her ex-husband, David. Halloween weekend was to be his weekend with the children. That Friday morning, she dropped Reagan and Grant off at school.

"We said our prayers. I watched them walk into the school," Karen remembers. "And that is the last time I saw Reagan and Grant alive."

On Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, David burned their family home to the ground. Reagan and Grant were inside. Though the children did not burn in the fire, they did succumb to the smoke.

Immediately upon receiving the call that her house was on fire, Karen knew.

"She calls me, and she's screaming on the phone," Karen's father Duke said. "'Dad, he's killing my kids! He's killing my kids!'"

"In that instant, it was my mom, gut feeling," Karen said, "and I said he's hurting them, he's killing them, and he's getting back at me."

RELATED: After unspeakable tragedy, two women find hope, light together

In 2020, the dates and days of the week lined up as they did in 2015. Oct. 30 was a Friday, just like five years ago. All weekend, Karen mentally walked through her memories of her kids' final days. 

While she stepped through those memories, Karen set out on a herculean effort to run 100 miles in her children's honor.

A very personal motivation

One hundred miles in a 30-hour span, from just before sunrise on Saturday, Oct. 31, through midday on Sunday, Nov. 1, five years to the day after she received that harrowing phone call that turned upside down.

"I can't tell you how many times I've told her 'look, don't do this to yourself anymore," her father Duke said. "You can do it in another way. Don't do this.' And for her to look me in the eye and say 'Dad, I'm doing it.'"

Karen did not back down. She never wavered.

"If I quit, then Reagan and Grant die a second death. And I will not... I will not have that. I will not stand for that," she said.

Karen said her children, in their own symbolic ways, revealed themselves to her all throughout her 100-mile odyssey.

"Being out on those trails, you see and you notice things that you would never notice," Karen said. "The cardinals. The hearts that I find out in nature. It's unbelievable. They're always present, and they're always with me."

Karen had a support system that ran with her, pushed her, fed her, changed her socks, and more. But they were no match for the trinity Karen felt guiding her through the weekend.

"Reagan's at my right, Grant's at my left," Karen said. "And God's at my back. Nothing can stop me."

Karen ran with a specialized bib on her back through the 100-mile journey. The number stamped across the bib: 110115. Nov. 1, 2015. 

"She's a hero to so many people," Andrea Moore said. "Her strength, her resiliency. This is her moment. And she's taking this weekend back."

Andrea ran nearly 50 of the miles right alongside Karen and watched her friend complete the final miles.

Credit: WFAA
Karen Sparks poses with her team of supporters after completing an ultramarathon on Nov. 1, 2020.

Rewriting her personal history

For four years, Halloween weekend was a nightmare for Karen. She would hide. Disappear. Evaporate for 48 hours. She avoided the pain of seeing anyone on the anniversary of her children's death. 

This year, she was right there for everyone to see, crossing the finish line.

"We rewrote Nov. 1, 2015," Karen said, as she looked around at her team of supporters. "And we conquered this 100 miles, together."

But 30 hours of pain doesn't erase what happened. 

"There is no closure," Karen said. "This is just the beginning."

The race was a statement. Karen Sparks won't be bowed by the pain. She won't be undone. And she's got two angels by her side, every step.

"All of us that are believers, we all get the same amount of time. Eternity," Duke said. "But Reagan and Grant just get a little more of heaven than we will."