Eyes on the prize: Keith and Jacquelyn Kotar
Perseverance and sacrifice are essential elements to succeed at something that endures, like a marriage, a relationship with God, or long-distance running, cycling, and swimming competitions.
Keith and Jacquelyn Kotar, parishioners at Holy Redeemer Church in Aledo, have the opportunity to practice perseverance and sacrifice as competitive athletes, spouses, and parents of two daughters, one of whom has health challenges and subsequent medical debt.
The couple, with the support of their parish community, never gives up as they run the race “toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
In Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis states, “The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up” (119). His apostolic exhortation focuses on the unique challenges and joys of families.
Their relationship began at the finish line — Jacquelyn’s first triathlon. She was impressed by Keith’s calmness and humility, even though he’d won the silver medal.
Keith wasn’t Catholic, but his father was, in addition to his best friend. He began attending Mass with Jacquelyn early in their relationship.
When Keith began asking a lot of questions about the faith, Jacquelyn advised him to attend RCIA. He entered the Church at Holy Redeemer Parish, where Jacquelyn worked as a part-time youth minister.
Married May 24, 2014, at Holy Redeemer, the first years of their marriage centered around training and competing in triathlons and running events. When their older daughter Soren was a baby, she went along for the ride.
When their second daughter, Emersyn, was born, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome that required lots of therapy and a strict medical diet.
Jacquelyn said, “I was never angry at God. On the flip side: I noticed every step of my life before Emmy was born, God was preparing us to be her parents” — including Jacquelyn’s celiac disease and Soren’s food allergies, which meant the family was already accustomed to accommodating special dietary needs.
After she was born, Emersyn spent 13 days in the NICU, and the couple said they will never forget the meals and prayers from members of the Holy Redeemer Moms’ Group. Monsignor Publius Xuereb visited them in the NICU. “We really feel like we’re part of that community,” said Jacquelyn.
LEAP OF FAITH:
For more than seven years, Keith worked long hours at Nolan Catholic High School, coaching cross country, track, and swimming and teaching AP physics, all the while training to compete in triathlons at the elite level. During track season, he might go three days without seeing his children.
Last fall, he took a “huge leap” and left the school to dedicate himself to coaching others at the club he founded, Fort Worth Triathlon and Track Club. He developed a six-month plan, and early success has convinced Keith it’s been a “God incident.”
KEEP IT TOGETHER:
Busy schedules at work, coaching, and competitions led them to discover that a Friday afternoon date, while their daughters are in school, is a good way to stay connected.
FAITH AT WORK:
Jacquelyn finds her job on the leadership team of the Fort Worth YMCA corresponds with Catholic values. “I learned an appreciation through my religious studies [major] and working with people of different backgrounds to love and accept all people. I’m thankful I work for an organization that values that.”
The website for Keith’s track club promotes three attributes: diligence, persistence, and humility — virtues the saints and Church encourage too.
PRAYER TO GO:
Jacquelyn was a student athlete in college, and workouts on the cross country team felt like a job to her.
It wasn’t until she became a recreational runner that she found a spiritual aspect to running.
Now, she looks forward to her long runs as extended prayer time, which she begins by praying the Rosary.
The family embraces liturgical living. Originally initiated to benefit the kids, the parents discovered it’s “fun for the whole family, an unintended pleasant surprise.”
A family altar changes with the Church seasons, holy days, and saints’ feast days. Their daughters earn kindness coins for loving acts, and the family plans a special activity when the kindness jar is full.
Jacquelyn grew up in Louisiana in a family and culture steeped in Catholicism. When she left for college, she joined a parish immediately.
She said, “I could go to Mass, and I felt centered. It was my safe space. I want that for my kids, that [Mass] is their comfort.”