Family mourns dad killed by lightning near the finish line of 50-kilometer race

Thomas Stanley and his wife, Ashley Stanley, had a model marriage.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Rachel Paula Abrahamson

When Ashley Stanley’s phone rang on Saturday afternoon, she assumed it was her husband, Thomas Stanley.

Thomas was running the 50-kilometer FlatRock trail race in Independence, Kansas, and Ashley was excited to hear his time.

But the voice on the other end didn’t belong to Thomas.

It was the event’s director, Carolyn Robinson, and she had terrible news.

Thomas Stanley (with wife, Ashley Stanley and their children) was an avid runner who competed in two 100-mile events.Courtesy of Chelsea Mitchell Photography

Thomas, 33, was less than a quarter-mile from crossing the finish line when he was struck and killed by lightning.

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Runners and officials rushed to perform CPR and first aid, but Thomas died at the scene.

“Thomas was my best friend,” Ashley told TODAY Parents from her Andover, Kansas, home. “I ache for him.”

The couple, who met at Bible study when they were teens, were married in 2008 and had three children: Charlotte, 6, Peter, 4, and Claire, 2. Thomas carved out time for each kid and would take them on special dates, Ashley said.

Ashley’s sister, Chelsea Mitchell, said Ashley and Thomas showed her what a healthy relationship looks like.

Thomas Stanley was known to take each of his kids on special dates. Courtesy of Chelsea Mitchell Photography

“They had a model marriage. I know it sounds cliche, but they really did,” Mitchell revealed. “They were God-centered, focused on serving each other and being respectful of each other. They cared deeply about each other's happiness.”

Charlotte, Peter and Claire have been told their dad is now in heaven with Jesus, but Ashley isn’t sure they fully grasp that he isn’t coming back.

“Ashley did such a beautiful job communicating to them what happened,” Mitchell said. “They understand as much as they can. Charlotte has been talking about how her daddy won’t be here for Halloween. She saw her dad on the news the other night. I asked her how it made her feel and she said, 'I miss my daddy.'"

The Stanleys' home has been filled with friends and family members, who come armed with meals and funny stories about Thomas.

“Just having knowing people are grieving with me has been great because a loss like this makes you feel really empty,” Ashley said. “My husband was a gem and a treasure. I’ve always counted myself so lucky to be married to him.”

Approximately 270 people are struck by lightning each year, and about 27 people die, according to lightning safety specialist John Jensenius.

“The odds of being struck in your lifetime, assuming you live 80 years, would be about 1 in 15,000,” Jensenius of the National Lightning Safety Council told TODAY Parents.

There have been 19 lightning fatalities in the United States this year.