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Thursday, December 02, 2010 - Local Mom Runs to Keep Son’s Memory Alive
Rhonda Duncan is also known as “Sunie,” but after her 21 year-old son, Chris, died accidentally last year, her life has been anything but sunny. Alcohol and energy drinks were to blame.

At the time, Chris was very distraught because he had just broken up with his girlfriend. Although he hadn’t abused alcohol before, 18 beer bottles and three, 24-ounce energy drink containers were found in his vehicle.

Rhonda said that Chris’ girlfriend had called her house the night Chris died voicing her concern for Chris. Rhonda remembers talking with Chris that night and feeling assured that he was just fine. She thought he was just sleeping in late. Rhonda started looking for him at their home when he was late for work because that was not typical of him. She found Chris in the brick shed that adjoins their home.

“Chris was not the kind of kid that would have purposely killed himself,” said Rhonda. “He seemed just fine, but after realizing he was mixing energy drinks and alcohol, he may have been much worse than he seemed because tests showed he was intoxicated more than twice the legal limit.”

“Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is especially harmful,” said Rhonda. “Each energy drink has the caffeine equivalent of six to eight cups of coffee, which often masks how drunk you really are.”

Rhonda is making it her mission to raise awareness of the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks. She says research shows kids who drink energy drinks are 75-percent more likely to try addictive behaviors than those who do not because they seek the thrill of the high a substance can do for them.

Once an avid runner, Rhonda abruptly stopped running when her son passed away because she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. On the anniversary of his death, she felt the urge to start running again.

“I run to keep Chris’ memory alive,” said Rhonda, who recently ran a half-marathon in Virginia, and plans to participate in the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon in April. For more information about the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon, visit

Spiritual Support Helps Family Cope with Loss

“It is only the grace of God that has gotten me this far,” said Rhonda.

Rhonda was able to take a break from her career at Parkwest Medical Center as a Respiratory Therapist to care for her family full-time. While her husband worked, she home schooled their children and cherished the memories doing so has provided.

“Watching them learn was such a blessing. We would also go on field trips, like going to the Knoxville Zoo,” said Rhonda. “It was a very special time and I’m thankful that I was able to be so hands-on in raising them.”

The Duncan family attended First Baptist Church of Concord and believed in the importance of spiritual growth in faith. Chris was very involved there leading a class for mentally challenged young adults.

“I can only vaguely recall the first few weeks after Chris’ death,” said Rhonda. “It was all such a fog, but I can vividly remember the phenomenal outpouring of support we received from our church, colleagues and the various people I’ve met throughout the nation as a result of my time with Camp Alkulana.”

Camp Alkulana is a Christian-based camp in Virginia that empowers children through ministry and education. Rhonda has volunteered there for 29 years. All three of her children, Chris, Philip and Paul, attended the camp. Paul, the youngest, continues to attend the camp each year and will be a counselor in training next year. The camp recently built a wooden bench near Chris’ favorite fishing spot in his memory.

At 15, Paul credits the skills he learned at Katerpillar Kids camp for helping him learn healthy ways to grieve the loss of his brother. The annual camp is sponsored by Covenant HomeCare for kids who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

For more information about Katerpillar Kids Camp, visit