EAGAN, Minn. (WCCO) — Eagan High School has lost a beloved science teacher after he died while running in a race near Lutsen.
Forty-one-year-old Jon Mathson collapsed last weekend during the Superior Spring Trail Race.
The cause of death is being investigated, but friends say he appeared happy and healthy during the run.
Since Mathson’s death, the outpouring of support has come fast as friends, coworkers, and complete strangers make donations to help his family.
“Wherever nature and friends were is where you could find Jon,” said Ben Heil, a friend of Mathson’s who teaches at EHS.
Sitting at Lebanon Hills Park, he and fellow teacher Jeff Kolehmainen reminisced about the many miles they covered with Mathson on the trails.
“We spend most every weekend running here,” Kolemainen said. Recently many of those runs were in order to train for the Superior Spring Trail Race. It would be the fourth year in a row they participated. Six of them total traveled to Lutsen for their annual “guy’s weekend.”
“We look forward to it. As much as it’s about running, it’s about being together,” said Heil.
They laced up their shoes for the race. Heil and Kolehmainen are the cross country coaches at the high school and ran ahead of Mathson, but their pace was only a few minutes faster.
“So we passed (Mathson) right out the turnaround, we high fived him,” said Kolehmainen.
“He had a big smile on his face and I said, ‘Jon, you are crushing this thing,'” said Heil. “He looked so good. He was 20 minutes faster than he had ever been.”
They joked that they would see each other at the finish line, but that would never happen.
“We heard the ambulance sirens and we thought, ‘Oh no, a runner is hurt,'” said Kolemainen.
“I don’t think at that time it even crossed either of our minds that it could have been Jon,” said Heil.
At the finish line the two waited, expecting Mathson to be only a few minutes behind them.
“Twenty minutes went by and we were kind of wondering, ‘He should be here by now,'” said Kolehmainen. “Then we thought, ‘It’s Jon, if someone was down he probably stopped to help.'”
After talking with race officials, they learned it was Mathson who collapsed. They said medics tried CPR and an AED but it was too late.
“The reports that we were getting about every runner came by and stopped and took their shirts off and covered him, there were people on the trail kneeling down, praying,” said Kolehmainen. “He’s 41 (years old), that’s not supposed to happen. He’d never had any heart issues or anything.”
The confusion was met with grief at Eagan High School Monday, where all three are teachers. “We led off the day with a meeting as a staff just to kind of console each other,” said Heil.
Students were also upset, but Kolehmainen said they were quick to console the staff who lost a friend.
“It was rough. It was real quiet. Lots of tears,” he said.
A husband and a father, they said Mathson was a family man who was ingrained in the Eagan community. At the school, they said students have offered to help Mathson’s wife with babysitting and yard work throughout the summer.
A GoFundMe page was set up for his family as well. In less than 24 hours it raised more than $30,000.
“It’s a ray of sunshine in a storm,” said Heil. “To know that that’s going to allow his wife and his son to have at least a little bit of security even for just a short period of time, like I said it lifts your spirits.”
Kolehmainen and Heil said running again at Lebanon Hills Park undoubtedly won’t be the same.
“I think I’m gonna miss the talks that we had. He told me that his wife was pregnant when we were on a run here. We talked about retirement and what we were gonna do with retirement on a run here,” said Heil.
But both say on the trails is where they know they’ll find Mathson again.
“I’m gonna see a bird and I’m gonna say OK, Jon’s still with me. Just not maybe in the way that I would want him to be,” said Heil.
A celebration of life for Mathson will be held at Eagan High School Friday from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. It’s open to the public.