A year after a grizzly bear fatally mauled Brad Treat, his friends and family carry on his memory running the Missoula Marathon
By Justin Franz
WEST GLACIER — One year ago, Somer Treat woke up early on a June morning and walked over to the big picture windows in her bedroom that overlook the mountains on the southern edge of Glacier National Park. As morning light blanketed the tree-covered hills near Halfmoon Lake, Treat watched a helicopter pace back and forth in the sky, looking for the animal that had killed her husband just hours earlier.
“Is this all real?” she thought to herself, still exhausted from the chaos of the previous day.
After watching the helicopter for a few moments, Somer went downstairs, put on her running shoes and jogged out the front door.
Twelve hours earlier, on June 29, 2016, Somer’s husband, Brad, a law enforcement officer in the Flathead National Forest, had been mountain biking on U.S. Forest Service trails near the West Glacier KOA, close to where he and his wife had recently built a home. Brad was with a family member when he came around a blind curve and ran into the side of an adult male grizzly bear. According to an investigation into the incident, he only saw the animal for one or two seconds before he collided with it on his bike and flew over the handlebars. Startled by the collision, the bear fatally attacked him before running off.
Somer, a homebuilder and designer, was working near Whitefish when she got a call that her husband had been involved in an incident with a bear. Details were limited, but as she drove along U.S. Highway 2 back to West Glacier, she saw a pair of helicopters circling overhead. By the time she pulled off the road just west of town, dozens of law enforcement officers and first responders were there to help. Word had quickly spread that one of their own had been hurt.
Brad, a Kalispell native and standout athlete at Flathead High School, earned a master’s degree in criminology at the University of Montana in 1996 and worked 15 years as a law enforcement officer in the Hungry Horse Ranger District. In that time, he built a reputation for being both tough and compassionate. On one occasion, when Brad found a homeless man camping on Forest Service land with a fire that would barely burn, he went into the woods to retrieve more firewood to help.
Soon after Somer arrived home, one of Brad’s colleagues broke the news to her that his body had been found. As the sun dropped toward the horizon on that hot June evening, Brad’s remains were taken out of the woods under the watchful eyes of dozens of colleagues. Before his body was transported to the state crime lab for an autopsy, his wedding ring was given to Somer. He was 38.
As news spread of Brad’s death, Somer and her family began to plan a memorial service. The process was just getting underway when Somer looked out the window the following morning and then hit the trail.
Since 2007, she has run at least three miles every day, regardless of weather or work. If she had a 5 a.m. flight, she would get up at 3 a.m. to make sure she had time to run. She shared her passion for running with Brad, who was an accomplished track star at UM when they first met in the 1990s, and they always made time to run together even with conflicting work schedules. Brad always encouraged Somer, now 38, in her effort to run every day, and told her that her streak should only be snapped by a broken limb. The day after Brad died, Somer used her run to start processing what had happened.
“Running has always been like meditation for me,” she said recently. “(After Brad died) running became a coping tool for me. It was something normal when nothing else was normal.”
On July 7, more than 2,500 people attended a memorial service for Brad at Kalispell’s Legends Stadium, the same field where he had cemented high school track records in the 1990s. The day after the service, Somer drove to Missoula to run the Missoula Marathon. Since 2004, she had run more than two-dozen marathons, most of them with Brad at her side. The couple had signed up to run the Missoula race together, and despite some friends telling her she should sit the race out, Somer knew that running it would be good for both her mind and body.
“We had signed up together and we were going to run it together, and so I felt like Brad was with me during that race,” she said.
Besides the Missoula Marathon, the Treats had planned to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. in October. Runners have to enter a lottery to participate, and after years of trying, the husband and wife finally got spots at the starting line. After Brad died, Somer asked her brother, Ben Hileman, if he wanted to run it with her.
“Brad had always told me that I could run a marathon, and I always laughed it off,” Hileman said. “But when Somer asked me if I’d run for Brad, I heard his voice in my head telling me to do it.”
Around the same time Hileman committed to running the D.C. race, Somer came up with the idea of getting a group together to sign up for this year’s Missoula Marathon to honor Brad near the one-year anniversary of his death. She approached friends, family and Brad’s co-workers and was overwhelmed by the number of people who agreed to do it with her.
On July 9, 44 people ran the marathon or half marathon wearing shirts with FS44, Brad’s call sign for 15 years on the Hungry Horse Ranger District. Friends and family recently started selling shirts with the call sign as a fundraiser for a college scholarship they are establishing for Flathead High students.
Hileman said he wasn’t surprised by the turnout, especially considering Brad’s emphasis on encouraging people to take on any challenge before them.
“Only Brad could get this many people to run a marathon,” Hileman said.
Among those who signed up for the marathon was Bob Fields, who spent 12 years working with Brad and is now a Forest Service regional patrol captain in Oregon. He said that running the race as a group helped those who were close to Brad begin the healing process, although he said life without their friend will never be easy.
“It still hurts,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing Brad.”
Missoula was Somer’s 33rd marathon, but unlike past runs, she wasn’t aiming for a personal best. Her goal was to run with the people who loved her late husband, as a memorial to his infectious spirit and optimism.
“It’s amazing that all of these people who loved Brad have come together like this,” she said. “It’s almost magical.”
This story was published in the July 12, 2017 edition of the Flathead Beacon.