Kansas Runner Struck by Lightning | Dies Before Finish Line

  • Oct 30, 2019

Kansas runner struck by lightning dies before reaching finish line 

trail runner with sneakers running on a rocky path

Runner Struck by Lightning

When runners lined up for the FlatRock 50K trail run during the early morning hours of September 28, 2019, they didn’t know that one among them wouldn’t cross the finish line.

The weather was clear when the trail run started, but a fast moving thunderstorm descended upon the Elk River Hiking Trail in Independence, Kansas.

Soon after the storm arrived, a cloud-to-ground lightning strike hit a runner, Thomas Stanley, as he approached the finish line.

Nearby racers rushed to his aid, but Stanley tragically passed away.

Total Lightning Timeline

This tragic lightning strike fatality has greatly saddened the entire Earth Networks Team. We think it’s important to share what happened in the clouds that day to help others understand this lightning death.

Our Total Lightning Network detected 6,901 pulses in a 10-mile radius around Elk City State Park on September 28, 2019.

@EarthNetworks detected 6,901 total #lightning strikes during this lightning strike fatality incident Share on X

We detected these strikes between 12:00 and 20:00 UTC, or 7:00AM to 3:00PM CT. The magenta icons are in-cloud strikes while the yellow icons are cloud-to-ground strikes.

In-cloud and cloud-to-ground total lightning strikes on the day a kansas runner struck by lightning

Our network detected the first strike within 10 miles at 2:03PM CT. This was well over 5 hours after the 50K trail race began, which means most runners were still out in the woods. You can watch the lightning unfold in the video below.


The closest cloud-to-ground lightning strike to the staging area happened at 2:15PM CT. That’s only twelve minutes after the storm moved within a 10-mile radius. We believe this may have been the strike that hit the victim.

cloud-to-ground strike at Elk City State Park in Kansas that could have struck runner before he finished the race on September 28. 2019

After passing over Elk City State Park, the storm intensified.

How Can Parks and Recreation Organizations Protect Guests From Lightning?

Fast-forming storms like this one are often the most dangerous because there is less time to seek shelter. As we mentioned above, there were just twelve minutes between the first total lightning strike within 10 miles and this deadly strike.

Protecting guests taking part in recreational activities from lightning starts with total lightning detection. If you watched the video above, you saw that most of the lightning strikes were purple. These purple strikes are in-cloud lightning pulses. In-cloud lightning pulses make up about 80% of all lightning strikes.

While in-cloud lightning doesn’t pose a direct threat to people on the ground, its presence means that deadly cloud-to-ground lightning is on the way.

Parks and recreation organizations should use weather safety tools powered by total lightning to give themselves the most lead time for getting guests and employees to safety.

Is your park or recreation facility ready for dangerous weather? Learn how to build a weather safety policy: Click here to read our free guide now

What Happens When You’re Struck by Lightning?

Being struck by lightning isn’t as rare as some people think. In fact, the chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime is 1 in 10,000. That means you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than win the lottery!

The odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 10,000

When someone is struck by lightning, the lightning can stop their heart and kill them. Most of the time, lightning doesn’t kill the people it strikes. There are a lot of different side effects that lightning strike victims deal with, like:

  • Burns
  • Vision problems
  • Memory problems


We recommend that everyone learn more about lightning and what happens if you get struck because awareness is often the first step towards protecting yourself. Do you want to learn more about what happens if you get struck by lightning?


Remembering Thomas

This lightning strike victim was 33-year-old Thomas Stanley. Stanley was a husband and father-of-three in the Wichita area.

He served as the director of business initiatives at the Kansas Leadership Center. There he developed and launched several leadership programs, wrote leadership workbooks, and taught workshops throughout Kansas.

He and his wife loved to run. Thomas started running in high school and the completed a marathon. He figured if he could run 26.1 miles, he could run over 100 miles. Thomas trained hard and completed several ultramarathons.

According to the National Weather Service, Thomas was the 19th lightning strike fatality in in United States during 2019.