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Family of Ralph Yarl hope 'Going the Distance for Brain Injury' race can help the healing process

Ralph Yarl family to attend annual Memorial Day 'Going the Distance for Brain Injury' race
Faith Spoonmore.png
Posted at 5:10 PM, May 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-31 10:49:42-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's been more than six weeks since 17-year-old Ralph Yarl was shot twice, including once in the head, when he mistakenly went to the wrong home to pick up his younger brothers.

Although he survived, he's still dealing with the aftermath of suffering a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

"There are a lot of things that he’s going to have to work his way through. It’s just hard to explain how he really is doing. The events that happened on April 13, Ralph spoke about it one time, and that was in the hospital, and since then Ralph has not spoken about that event with anybody else," said Faith Spoonmore, Ph.D., who is Ralph Yarl aunt. "I truly feel like to some extent, it’s almost like if I act like it did not happen maybe it didn’t happen to me."

While she believes he's partially in denial, Spoonmore acknowledges he's even more quieter than he was before, occasionally forgetting conversations and often reluctant to get out of bed.

"He still has these moments where he’s hanging out with his brothers and you hear them laughing and you see that kid comes back and he seems to be happy and smiling and he comes back for a little bit. But, then he has these moments where he sits in the corner, and folds up," Spoonmore said.

An accomplished musician, he's also now limited to the amount of time he can spend practicing.

"He still loves music. He still wants to play music," Spoonmore said. "You walk in his room, and you find a bass clarinet on the floor, a clarinet on the bed, a xylophone somewhere else. So, he has all these instruments around him that he’ll play every so often, but definitely not like before. Right now he’s very restricted, so he can play for 15 to 20 minutes."

She said he also has emotional scars that run deeper than ever, in addition to migraines and light sensitivity. For example, Spoonmore added her nephew is actually living with her right now, all because he's too scared to return to his neighborhood where the shooting happened.

As for Andrew Lester, the man who shot Yarl, he's pleaded not guilty and is currently out on bond.

While the family waits for the court case to play out, they're immensely grateful for all the support they've received.

"All the emails I would get on the GoFundMe, when Ralph was able to read on his phone, he would spend time reading the comments that people were writing on there," Spoonmore said. "And a lot of times I would get DM’s and stuff from people, I would spend time with him reading that to him, and he loved every single one of them."

Now, on Memorial Day, the public has a chance to continue supporting the teen's recovery by attending a race that raises money for traumatic brain injuries.

It's the "Going the Distance for Brain Injury" annual race, scheduled for 8:15 a.m. on Monday, May 29th, at Loose Park in Kansas City.

Ralph's family is encouraging participants to further support him by wearing blue, his favorite color.

Spoonmore says the family hopes this event will not only raise money and awareness for others dealing with traumatic brain injuries, but it will also show Yarl he's not alone.

"I want Ralph to see, and for Ralph to know, that he is not the first and he’s definitely not alone. There’s a big community in Kansas City of families that have dealt with this, that are still dealing with it, and he, too, can be okay." said Chris Biesla-Brown, who can relate to Yarl's traumatic experience.

This race is personal for Bielsa-Brown and his family. It was named after his aunt, Amy Thompson, an avid runner who was shot in the head in 1986. Although she lived for three more years, she eventually passed away from complications related to that traumatic brain injury.

Tragedy would strike their family again the same year she died. Thompson's sister, Trish, was hit by a drunk driver and also suffered a TBI, leading to her death years later.

Although Biesla-Brown was just a child at the time, he recalls what a dark time it was for his family.

But, he recalls how the event helped their family heal as it continued to grow over the years.

"It really warms my heart to see this, to have this personal connection, but also a larger connection and universal connection to the struggles we have in this world," Bielsa-Brown said. "To see the humanity come out of (our experience), and to see people raising people up through hard times, I think this race is a perfect example of this, how we take a tragic outcome and make something that is positive."

He said he hopes this race and the connections the Yarl family makes will help them going forward.

"You're not alone. These things happen, as tragic as they are, but there's a community willing to help you out and welcome you in, and you know, provide any resource that you need," he said.

To sign up for the race, click here. You can get a $10 discount by signing up for "Team Ralph".

The 36th annual Memorial Day run is held in Kansas City’s Loose Park, just south of the Plaza. Individuals can register for the 10K or 5K runs, 1.5K walk or the FUN4Kids race. The race/walk supports the local non-profit BIAKS, offering resources to those living with brain injuries.