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Widow learns to turn grief into inspiration

Posted at 6:21 PM, Feb 08, 2016

CINCINNATI -- When Jason Lazor fell to his death a year ago, he left behind a young wife and their unborn child.

It might be easy for his widow, Anna, to let her grief become paralyzing. Just 36 years old when he died, her husband never got to meet their daughter, Avery.

A year later, she's anything but paralyzed. And her new goal is more than 1,000 miles away and 14,000 feet high.

Setting the Record Straight

Jason Lazor went to Red River Gorge on Feb. 6, 2015, with a group of about 20 other guys for a "Winter Man Trip."

"It was an annual thing," his best friend, Ryan Ruebusch, said. "I think that night we had roughly 20 people."

Jason went with some of the more experienced hikers for a night hike on Chimney Top Trail. There's a sign at the trailhead, warning hikers to the danger of the steep cliffs and the potential for death.

When the group got to Chimney Top Rock, where the trail ends in a spectacular view and 200-foot drop, Lazor stepped over a railing.

Jason Lazor's wife said the couple loved hiking and fishing.

"One of the things I've sort of read about is why did he go over the railing," Ruebusch said. "To me, the railing is there because the trail ends in a cliff. It's no different from walking along any of the other trails down there. When you go down there, it is dangerous, so I don't see that as anything that is out of the ordinary. I have done that before myself. We've done those kinds of things."

Ruebusch insists Lazor didn't try to jump onto the chimney itself, as some have said. Instead, he says his friend lost his footing and slipped into a crevice.

The group had no immediate thoughts their friend might be dead.

"In my mind, I was just envisioning him being stuck in that crack. Then it took about an hour for the rescue team to get there. It was very treacherous terrain, it's hard to get to," Ruebusch said.

Hours later, in the early-morning darkness of Feb. 7, a rescue was underway. Searchers found Lazor's headlamp about halfway down the crevice.

It was around then, Ruebusch says, that the tragic reality started to catch up with him.

"One friend of mine who was with us said it'll be a miracle if he survives this, and then it kind of dawned on me that -- I looked at him like, are you thinking he actually didn't make it?"

It took six hours to recover Lazor's body.

Since then, two other Tri-State men have fallen to their deaths after stepping beyond the railing at Chimney Top Rock.

Refusing to be Consumed by Grief

Ruebusch left the gorge that morning and drove back to Lazor's house to be with the new widow. He says the healing process started that day.

At first, Anna Lazor says she didn't understand how she could be happy without Jason in her life. But shortly after giving birth to their daughter, she found One Fit Widow, a website run by Michelle Steinke-Baumgard. Steinke-Baumgard lost her husband, Mitch, in 2009, and wrote that she used exercise as a way to deal with her grief and stress.

"And the more I read her posts, the more it started to sink in, and the more I started thinking about how I need to inspire Avery to not use tragedy as an excuse to not achieve everything in life that you are capable of achieving," Lazor said.

 

She used that little kick from Steinke-Baumgard's website and turned to a dream she shared with her late husband: hiking one of Colorado's so-called Fourteeners, peaks reaching beyond 14,000 feet in elevation. She also decided to make the hike a fundraiser for Steinke-Baumgard's charity, Live the List, which provides financial support for other widows to achieve their bucket lists.

Ruebusch is going, along with Jason Lazor's mother.

"And really we're encouraging anyone -- anyone who wants to come out and hike with us, whether it be for Jason or for someone that they've lost, but this trip is really important to me because it gives me something to focus on this year other than the loss of Jason," she said.

Anna Lazor said her husband's death has changed the way she looks at everything. She believes her husband would want her to choose to be happy.

And being happy, she says, doesn't mean she's forgotten him.

"My grief will always be a part of me," she said, "and I'll always miss Jason. But choosing happiness is just about not letting it consume you to the point where you can't continue on and continue to inspiring the people around you."

Learn more about Anna's journey to Live Jason's List, One Fit Widow and nonprofit Live The List.