Sequim's Strongman, Jesse Marunde, dies at 27

By Michael Dashiell, Sequim Gazette Sports Editor

August 1, 2007

Sequim, WA - He was Sequim's Hercules, a broad-shouldered giant with a broad smile and a heart big enough to give a piece of it to anyone he'd meet.

Family members say Jesse Marunde was exactly the same at home as he was on the world stage: strong, kind and generous in all things to the end.

A nationally ranked Strongman competitor and father of two, Marunde died July 25 after a workout at a gymnasium in Sequim.

He was 27.

"Our grief is the same as any other family who loses a child," says Gigi Marunde, Jesse's mother. "What is extraordinary is that he was an exceptional person."

At 6 feet, 5 inches and more than 300 pounds, Marunde towered above most friends and neighbors in his Sequim hometown. He became a dominating figure in Strongman competitions across the country and the world, finishing second in the 2005 MetRx World's Strongest Man.

He also ran a gym in town with his wife, Callie, and was personal trainer and workout partner for dozens of locals. He brought top athletes to Sequim for a Strongman competition at the Irrigation Festival each year.

To the delight of fans and onlookers, he signed autographs, posed for pictures, answered queries. He made connections not only at strength shows but around town and Sundays at Sequim Community Church, inspiring everyone from young children to his own 88-year-old great-grandmother.

"Everyone to him was a human being worthy of respect," mom Gigi says.

Friends of the family said Marunde became dizzy following a workout and died shortly after.

Cause of death is not known at press time.

Clallam County prosecutor and coroner Deborah Kelly said an autopsy is planned but results might not be known for 30 days.

Jesse is survived by his wife, Callie; their 7-week-old daughter Jessica Joy "JJ," his 8-year-old son Dawson from a previous marriage, mother Gigi and father Chuck, brothers Bristol and Brady, sister Sabrina, grandparents George and Pat Farren and Glen and Dorothy Marunde, and a host of friends and relatives.

Says Callie, "Jesse just wanted to be the best dad, the best husband and be the "World's Strongest Man."

Strength in numbers

Born Jesse Dawson Marunde on Sept. 14, 1979, in Glennallen, Alaska, he grew up a hunter and fisherman, breaking into commercial fishing by age 8. He claimed some of his early grip strength from working those fishing nets.

He was more of a father figure than brother to Bristol and Brady as a youth, mother Gigi recalls.

Jesse worked his fishing nets each summer until weightlifting caught his attention, and it changed his life's course. At Sequim High School, he competed in wrestling, football, and track and field. After his ninth-grade season of football, he weighed just 170 pounds. Using a strict weightlifting regimen, he added 55 pounds by the time he graduated from ?Sequim High in 1998.

"Every rep I've ever done is written down," Jesse said in a 2001 interview, flipping through a notebook filled with ink- and sweat-soaked pages. He had stacks of them.

"I kept adding weight and I couldn't keep track of it all in my head; that's why started writing it down."

Not surprising, say his family members. Jesse was the kind of person to become an expert in anything he did.

"What people didn't know about him [is] he was really intelligent," Gigi says. When he got into guns, he became a gun expert. When he bought dogs, he became an expert on dogs. And when it came to his body, he studied exercise, nutrition and fitness constantly."

After receiving a football scholarship to Montana State University to play tight end, Jesse began competing in Olympic weightlifting events, against the wishes of school football officials. At age 19, he placed third in the heavyweight class at the Junior Nationals with a snatch of 242 pounds and a clean-and-jerk of 308 pounds.

That same year, his son Dawson Blue was born.

Jesse left the university, in part to raise his son. With more time to focus on pursuing his dream - becoming the "World's Strongest Man" - he became a Strongman competitor of great proportions.

Strongman dream

Unlike bodybuilding and weightlifting competitions, Strongman events are whole-body challenges, often involving carrying weight over distances, dead-lifting cars or pulling buses.

"This isn't a subjective sport like body building," Jesse Marunde once said, explaining what attracted him to the challenges. "Either you lift it or you don't."

With guidance from strength coaches, he increased his lifts and won the Washington State Olympic weightlifting championship in 2001. Within one year, he became the youngest American, at age 22, to qualify for the World's Strongest Man contest televised on ESPN.

As years passed, Jesse got bigger, stronger and swifter, thanks to a pack of strong friends from professional and amateur ranks, notably his friend and mentor JV Askem, who died in 2003 from a brain tumor. Jesse never quite got to the top of his profession as he had hoped to, although he got about as close as anyone could. At the MetRx World's Strongest Man in September 2005, his third event on the ESPN network, he led most of the competition before Mariusz Pudzianowski took the title. Jesse took second.

But if he wasn't atop the leader board by the end, he was certainly and consistently one of the more theatric competitors, tearing off his shirt to flex for an applauding crowd.

Despite success at numerous competitions, he rarely - if at all - let it go to his head, as he took time to talk with any and all fans, inviting them to work out or to his home.

"Jesse's faith was strong," Chuck Marunde wrote, "and he once told me that he knew God had given him his strength and power for a reason."

Sequim's Strongman also officially added to his own family three years ago when he married sweetheart Callie Megan Michney in Hawaii.

"I remember when he asked me to marry him," Callie recalls. "He said, 'Not marrying you would be the biggest mistake of my life.' Not marrying him would have been the biggest mistake of my life. He was so good to me."

The two opened Marunde Muscle, a personal-training business, in Blyn. The couple later moved the business to its current location in Creamery Square in downtown Sequim.

Callie gave birth to the couple's first child - whom they expected to be a boy - about seven weeks ago. They were going to call their son J.J., for Jesse Jr. After learning they had a daughter, they decided to still refer to her as J.J. and named her Jessica Joy.

His last workout

After double knee surgery last year - one to repair a knee, the other an elective surgery to return to Strongman competitions - Jesse Marunde was planning another run at the World's Strongest Man contest in Anaheim, Calif. This summer, after a third-place finish at the Venice Beach Grand Prix, he qualified for the 2007 WSM event.

Last Wednesday, July 25, Jesse finished a series of squat sets, a 600-pound flip and 265-pound stone lift/load, according to workout partner John "Sarge" Allen.

"All of this was done with no rest between sets. Rack, pull, go," the post reads. "At the completion of these sets Jesse laid on his back, on the cold floor like normal. Breck [Gault] and Sarge noticed that his breathing was laborious. Jesse became incoherent and stopped breathing. We administered CPR, called 911 and continued to resuscitate until paramedics arrived. They set up the defibrillator, epinephrine, to no avail. He was worked on for over an hour between Breck, Sarge and the paramedics. These are the facts as it happened. We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss. We appreciate your support and prayers. [signed] The Sequim Crew."

Within hours, his death sent a shock throughout the Strongman and weightlifting community, filling numerous message boards with comments raging from utter shock to pain and grief - and often all three. An overload of well-wishers inadvertently crashed with messages.

Adds Callie: "He affected so many people at these contests that he didn't even know." At a candlelight vigil last Thursday in front of Jesse's gym, several hundred people gathered to share songs, to hug and to share the loss.

Chuck Marunde shares this story from the vigil: "Four children were playing in the dirt outside the gym, and while lifting a little stone, a boy about 9 years old said, 'I'm going to be just like Jesse.' That boy had no idea Jesse's father was there. I was profoundly touched by that. Many I did not know came to hug me and Jesse's brothers and share their loss. A man in his 80s embraced me and told me Jesse spent time with his grandson, and with tears in his eyes this grandfather told me that Jesse saved his grandson's life."

"I loved him," Callie says, choking back tears. "I still love him."

She lets free a good, brief cry before refocusing her attention on baby J.J., who without a word lets it be known she needs to be changed.

Callie allows a small smile.

"She's the best present he ever gave me."

Related story:

Sequim strongman Jesse Marunde collapses, dies

July 26th, 2007 - 8:41am

(Sequim, WA) -- A Sequim man considered one of the strongest men in the world has died. Twenty-seven-year-old Jesse Marunde died last night after collapsing while doing exercises at his home in Sequim.

Friends of the family confirm he died last night after stopping his workout when he felt dizzy.

Marunde and his wife Callie had just celebrated the birth of a baby about six weeks ago. Marunde also has a nine-year-old son from a previous marriage.

Marunde finished second in the 2005 "World's Strongest Man" competition. He continued competing in similar competitions and ran a gym with his wife in Sequim.




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