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2016 Olympian Jenny Simpson Helping Her Colorado Community Heal After Narrow Escape From Marshall Fire

By Eric Christensen

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    BOULDER COUNTY, Colorado (KCNC) — “I opened the front door and the whole front yard was on fire,” Jenny Simpson recalled of the Marshall Fire. “In that moment you’re thinking, ‘I need to save my life, my husband’s life, my dog’s life.’”

or decorated athlete Jenny Simpson and her husband Jason, Dec. 30, 2021, is a day they’ll never forget.

“The majority of the trauma and fear is from we had to leave,” Simpson said. “We didn’t leave, we escaped.”

While they did avoid being in harm’s way, the fear of losing their home was front and center as they watched the raging wildfire from afar.

“We sat in the parking lot of the ranger’s station on Cherryvale Road and I’ll never forget watching the fire come closer and closer,” Simpson said. “I remember saying ‘I can’t just sit here and watch our home burn.’ So we left.”

More than 1,000 homes were destroyed in the fire, including about 30 in Old Marshall area. The Simpsons’ home was not one of them.

“We do have strong feelings of empathy and wanting to do whatever we can to help our neighbors who have lost varying amounts of things,” said Jason. “Everyone is going through the same event no matter what their circumstances are so it’s really brought the community together and we want to be a big part of that.”

Jenny and Jason bought their home in Marshall in 2019. It’s a renovated old schoolhouse that’s been part of the community for 120 years.

“We have some really interesting stories of people coming over who still live in area who want to see where they went to school,” Jason said.

So saving their house for themselves and the Marshall community was paramount. In the 7 minutes between first smelling the smoke and having to evacuate, Jenny, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the 1,500 meters, jumped into action spraying water on anything that might burn.

“I live at such an intense level and I’m available to go to that place so easily,” said Jenny. “I am really proud that I immediately sprung into action to save what we have.”

“I’m the calming influence and that’s not what was needed in those few minutes,” Jason said. “I did a great job of doing what I was told.”

However, it wasn’t Jenny’s intensity that kept some of her running career keepsakes, like the Olympic bronze medal, out of harm’s way.

“I had prepared for an interview several weeks earlier and out of laziness I had put it all in a bag and failed to unpack it and put it all in its safe place,” Jenny said. “So all of my medals, and shoes from the World Championships and newspaper clippings were all beautifully packed into one tote bag that I was able to grab as I was thinking we might have to leave in a hurry.”

As Jenny and Jason prepare to move back, they’re making sure the old, historic schoolhouse serves a much bigger purpose than just being their home. The Simpsons have already hosted two community meetings for friends and neighbors in Marshall. They’re hoping these get-togethers facilitate the healing their community so desperately needs.

“It’s a joy to imagine that the school will now be meeting its purpose once again,” Simpson said. “The school remains a piece of Marshall’s history and so it belongs as much to them as it does us. We really strongly feel that way. So any way this can serve as a symbol of what is preserved through so much loss, we’re happy to share it.”

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