Jon Weber, wearing a T-shirt with his son Dustin’s picture on it, prepares for a workout in Bend before leaving on his trek on Wednesday. Wescom News Service/Andy Tullis
Jon Weber calls it “my own healing process.”
But it is not just for him.
The longtime Bend resident plans to run and bike some 400 miles down the coast of Oregon and Northern California as a tribute to his son, Dustin, who was swept to his death by a tsunami surge at the mouth of the Klamath River.
The effort will also be in remembrance of other Central Oregon youth who died long before their time, and it will serve as a fundraiser for kids there who cannot afford to play school sports.
“This is not only for my son,” says the 55-year-old Jon Weber. “It’s … helping kids and helping parents who have lost kids.”
Weber plans to run 200 miles and bike 200 miles over 10 days starting Feb. 29. He will start his trek in Astoria, where his son’s body was found on a sand bar last April 2. He is hoping to finish on March 11 – the day of the tsunami – at the locale where Dustin was swept into the sea.
Weber says he will run up to 20 miles per day and bike as many as 50 miles per day, mostly along U.S. Highway 101. A friend will drive a support vehicle and trailer ahead of Weber, who plans to sleep in the trailer each night.
Throughout his adventure, Weber will wear a “Tribute Run & Ride” T-shirt with a picture of Dustin on the front and pictures of others’ children who have died on the back. Weber is also running in honor of his two brothers who were killed in U.S. military service.
To train for the endeavor, Weber has been running at least seven miles per day, and 15-20 miles one day a week.
“I think my body will hold up,” says Weber, a former Bend High wrestler who has always maintained his fitness. “I’ve been pushing it pretty good. I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in 30 years.”
Dustin Weber, who was 25 when he died, was an indirect victim of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan that struck on March 11. More than 13,000 Japanese citizens were killed in the earthquake and resulting tsunami.
Raised in Bend by his father and his stepmother, Dina, Dustin had moved to California just three weeks before he died. His maternal grandmother, a member of the Yurok tribe of American Indians, had given him an old house on the reservation, Jon Weber says, and Dustin had been fixing up the house, hiking and making new friends.
On the morning of the tsunami, Dustin and two friends went down to the beach to watch the waves come in and take photos. According to his friends, Dustin had his back turned when a large wave knocked him down and dragged him away from shore.
His body was found about 400 miles north, some three weeks later.
Dustin Weber was the first person in the U.S. to be killed by a tsunami since 1964, when an earthquake in Alaska triggered waves that hit Del Norte County, claiming 11 victims.
Jon Weber says his son had struggled with drug use and had served some jail time. But he also says that Dustin had turned his life around, and that he was off drugs when he died.
“He had a great personality and a smile that would just dazzle anybody,” Jon says of his son. “It was hard to watch someone who had just changed their life … get taken.”
As a freshman at Bend’s Mountain View High School, Dustin tore the ACL and meniscus in his knee during a football practice and was unable to play after that, according to Jon Weber. Jon says it was after Dustin stopped playing football that the teen got involved with drugs.
That is why Weber hopes through his tribute run and bike that he can raise funds for underprivileged kids to play sports.
“I just saw what happened to (Dustin) when he wasn’t playing sports,” Weber reflects. “Knowing there’s some good athletes who can’t afford to play sports … if I can help just a few kids, it’s something that Dustin would have wanted. And if we contribute to that, we’ve done something good.”
Weber, a meatcutter at Albertson’s in Bend for more than three decades, has endured a challenging past few years. He overcame prostate cancer three years ago and, he says, is now in remission.
Just one day after Dustin’s body was found last April, Weber’s 84-year-old mother, Dustin’s grandmother, died.
“We’ve been wiped out,” Weber says. “I lost my mom and my son in less than three weeks.”
Kelsea Weber, Dustin’s sister and Jon’s daughter, says she was close to her brother even though he was eight years older than her.
“There’s days here and there where it’s harder than others,” says Kelsea, an 18-year-old high school senior. “You just have to keep living. We’ve all dealt with (Dustin’s death) in different ways. This (run and bike) is a good way for (my dad) to get that closure, especially helping other people with their losses.”
Kelsea believes her father can complete his planned 400-mile journey.
“I think he definitely has the guts and determination to get it done,” she says.
Weber knows the weather on the Oregon and Northern California coasts could be dicey in late winter, but he is determined to complete his goal in memory of his son – and of many others’ sons and daughters who have passed on.
“Rain and wind will kick my ass,” Weber predicts. “But a 40-mile day is not a big deal. It’s my way of healing. It’s my tribute.”