Frustrated with feeling powerless as her brother battled addiction, Denton High School’s conditioning coach Jeannette Krupp knew she had to do something to bring awareness and empathy to the nation’s overdose epidemic. So, she put her athleticism to the test and embarked on a 450-mile bike ride.
Jeannette wanted to help people understand that just because someone struggles with substance abuse, that doesn’t mean they are any less human or deserving of compassion and support.
“Everywhere I go, someone connects with it,” Jeannette said. “That’s the stigma that we’ve got to stop because every one of those junkies is someone’s dad, mom, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, somebody someone loves. I always say they’re somebody’s someone.”
Jeannette heads off Monday to make the same 450-mile journey for the third time. But this bike ride will take on a new purpose. It’s the first time she knows her brother, Karl, won’t be waiting at the finish line to hug her tight and thank her for caring about “people like him.”
This is Jeannette’s first Bike450 since her brother’s death on April 16, 2021, from an overdose on his way home from rehab. Although now she’s riding in honor of her brother’s memory, she still wants to support the other people struggling with addiction whom she’s met along the way.
“I was kind of mad at the world and I didn’t know if I was going to do it again,” Jeannette said, her voice catching. “I was doing it for him. And now he’s gone. I’m like, ‘I’m supposed to keep all these people alive and I couldn’t keep my brother alive.’”
Jeannette and Karl, her little brother two years her junior, were best friends. He was one of her biggest supporters and acted as a father figure to her son when he didn’t have another. She couldn’t stop grinning as she reminisced about their fond memories together.
“People would always say we could have been boy-girl twins,” Jeannette said. “I was his everything. … My brother loved kids. Played with my son, danced with him, he would be outside playing ball, jumping on the trampoline, wrestling with the boys.”
Karl had struggled for over a decade with substance abuse. Jeannette always kept her phone on in case her brother needed her or something ever happened to him. And, when Jeannette received the call in April 2021, she said as soon as she answered the phone, she could just tell the time had come.
“I had prepared myself for this …,” she said. “I don’t know how many times in the past five years I said, ‘When I get the phone call, I’ve got to stay strong. I can’t cry for Mom and Dad. I know this could happen, and I have to be prepared.’”
Karl Clarence Krupp IV was born on Nov. 7, 1982, in his and Jeannette’s tiny hometown of Owensville, Missouri. As the only boy and the next in a long line of Karls, he was expected to take the reins of the family’s tool and die shop.
Jeannette said Karl was well-liked in school, popular with the girls and a hard worker. A high school friend of the Krupp’s, Chris Huebner, described Karl as a confident and good-looking dude.
Working at the family’s business and living with their parents, Karl had a good foundation for his life at a young age, Jeannette said. But when he was about 24 years old, he got into a car accident that would change his course.
“He bought a brand new Mustang because he had the money and he worked,” Jeannette said. “He had a wreck. It wrapped around the telephone pole. He was smashed completely under the steering wheel and when my mom got there, she thought he was dead. They airlifted him and he pulled through but came out in a wheelchair because he had so many broken bones.”
Karl was prescribed heavy opioids to help with the pain from his accident. But when he was on the mend and the prescriptions stopped, his body’s dependence on opioids persisted. If he could no longer get them from a doctor, he was going to seek them elsewhere.
“He said he did it for years before we — the family — even knew,” Jeannette said. “My brother was so afraid of needles. That tells you how strong [the drugs] are. He would cry and scream when he was a kid getting his shots. And that’s why I remember my mom being in such disbelief when she found the first needle.”
Her brother would get sober sometimes. He was sober for over a year once. But addiction is about physiological dependence and not knowing how to cope with trauma and stress, she said. And when life became difficult, Karl’s substance abuse would flare up.
“His skin would crawl. He’d wake up every morning craving it,” Jeannette said. “Even when they don’t want it, they still crave it. … I love him to death. But let me tell you, he was a different person when he’s high. When they’re withdrawing it’s even worse.”
Though there were still positive memories from after her brother’s substance abuse started, they’re accompanied by memories of physical violence, lying, stealing and heartbreak.
For years Karl went in and out of rehab and jail, until eventually his career in the family business hit a breaking point before one of his visits to a sober home when he was about 35 years old.
“My dad and his brothers had a meeting and they said, ‘Look, we’re sorry, but we’re not going to let Karl come back,’” Jeannette said. “What do you mean? He’s Karl, my dad’s Karl, my grandpa was Karl, my great great grandpa was Karl. But he had overdosed in the bathroom at work. … So, my dad said, ‘I get it.’
“He just knew everyone was done with him. [Addicts] get embarrassed. He knew. It’s shameful and embarrassing. They get so disappointed in themselves, but then they feel like there’s no hope. So why not just keep using drugs to get over that pain?”
For years, Jeannette and Karl’s family encouraged them to not speak about his substance abuse and addiction. In a small town where everyone knew everyone, it was a sore subject for their parents. Jeannette said eventually, during an argument, her brother told their father that everybody already knew. There was no point in hiding it.
But once the not-so-secret was out and Karl’s life became more and more affected by his substance abuse, Jeannette committed herself to helping. Now with her brother’s permission to speak of his problem, she wanted to be an advocate for him.
“I did fitness modeling and was getting to where I could have been pretty big in that. But I stopped doing any of that and started focusing on my brother and trying to save him,” Jeannette said. “I think that’s why I took [his death] the hardest because I tried to save that guy for — still mad at him — for five years straight, talking to judges, counselors, probation officers, sober homes. What can we do to get you sober?”
Jeannette became his de facto point of contact for everything. She encouraged him to stay sober as much as she could and always told him he could overcome his addiction. When she felt like no one was paying attention to the kind of struggle her brother was facing, she started biking across the country, stopping along the way to speak at rehabilitation facilities and with strangers on the street, ending the ride in Missouri.
Karl could not stop gushing to his peers and counselors at rehab about how inspirational his sister was. He passed out 50 bracelets Jeannette made with the message “Stay Strong” and then asked for another 50 because everyone wanted one, she said.
“[His counselor] said, ‘Do you know he walked up and down every hallway showing every person your picture saying how amazing you are and how much he loves you? He told everyone what you do about this bike ride 450 miles across the country for people like him,’” Jeannette recalled. “And I just almost started going to cry.”
By the time Jeannette had completed two Bike450s in 2018 and 2019, her brother was still struggling on and off.
In one of his stays at a sober home, Karl fell in love with another addict, which Jeannette said was another turning point in his life. The two were sober when they met. But they couldn’t consistently stay sober together, despite Karl having graduated from drug court and them having children together.
“He hated it when people would say, ‘If you loved your kids enough, you would stop the drugs,’” Jeannette recalled. “He goes, ‘I love my kids more than myself. And then the fact is I need heroin because I feel like I’m dying when I don’t have it. I’m not me. That has nothing to do with the fact that I love my kids so much.’ He would say, ‘I don’t know how to explain it but it’s two different categories. It’s never a choice in our heads.’”
It came to a head when her brother was arrested and the judge presiding over his case had to determine whether to send Karl back to jail or to a rehab facility again. Jeannette remembers her father pleading for the judge to keep Karl in jail.
“The judge looked at him and said, ‘So, you’re telling me to keep your son in jail?’ and my dad said, ‘I’m telling you I want my son alive and he’s going to stay alive in jail. If you send him to rehab, he’s going to do it again. He’s going to get out and he’s going to overdose.’”
The judge ultimately sent Karl to rehab. Jeannette arranged for his stay at one in Arizona. She, too, had wanted him to stay in jail.
“You’re clean there and you’re safe,” she said to Karl. “You’ve got to go to rehab four times now. What do you think’s going to be different? You tell me what is going to be different this time.”
When Karl was released from jail, the plan was for a family member to pick him up and head straight to the airport so Jeannette could accompany him to the rehab facility in Arizona. Karl asked to stop by his home on the way there.
In that brief stop, Karl got high again. Jeannette knew the moment she saw him because he was sweating profusely and acting mean.
For three days, her brother was going through withdrawal. She said he could hardly leave their hotel. But on the fourth day, before he was supposed to go to rehab, he woke up and was her loving brother again. They rented four wheelers, got massages and made the best out of his last moments before rehab.
“I had written him a letter just telling him that I’m praying for him and cheering for him,” Jeannette said. “I put in the letter, ‘You’re going to do it this time. We all need you to do it and you need you to do it the most for yourself. Because if you don’t make it through this rehab, the only option is you’re going to be in the grave. We have talked about this numerous times. … Everyone is praying for you. … Your kids need you. You’ve got to do it.’”
They hugged and cried. Jeannette gave Karl a bracelet that reminded him to stay strong. He thanked her for everything she had done for him, and he was on his way.
That would be Karl’s last time in rehab. Everything went great while he was there. But when he transitioned from rehab to a sober home, he was expected to keep a job. The sober home’s infrequent bus schedule made transportation to work difficult.
At one point, he had had enough and called Jeannette to pick him up. When she refused, she didn’t hear from her brother for a while, and personnel at the sober home called days later to say he was missing.
“The honest truth is — and only my parents and close friends know — I had told him to stop asking us to come get him,” Jeannette said. “I said, ‘I don’t know if you realize the damage you have caused the family with our parents almost getting divorced, us not even wanting to have holidays if you’re high. Should we not have the kids there? Which Karl is going to show up?’”
She begged him to contact her and eventually he did to tell her he would be taking a Greyhound bus to get back home. But his phone was running out of minutes and he had no money to his name.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to get home. Do whatever it takes to get home. … I love you,’” she recalled.
Karl never made it home. He died of an overdose on the bus.
A new purpose
After her brother’s death, Jeannette wasn’t sure she was up for another Bike450. During her brother’s last stay in rehab, he had committed to training so he could ride the entire trip with her.
“I did everything I could to save him,” she said. “I know we can’t save people but I sure did try. … Some days I was just so mad.”
But Jeannette had already touched many lives through her first two bike rides and appearances at rehab facilities. She receives hundreds of messages on social media explaining how her story has resonated with other addicts and their family members.
“This one lady, she said, ‘I remember you said as long as there’s breath, there’s hope. I know your brother took his last breath and so your hope is probably gone. But just know I am alive because of that. You probably wish it was your brother,’” Jeanette recalled. “What we said was right: ‘We know you rather your brother be here. But thank you for still being a voice for us.’ And she asked me please don’t quit.”
The Krupps’ friend Huebner, who will act as Jeannette’s bodyguard on the ride, said since he battled with substance abuse after being in the Marine Corps and going through a divorce, Jeannette’s influence has helped give him strength.
“Addicts, we’re embarrassed because we know better and we’re ashamed,” he said. “She taught me nobody knows about that, only you know about that and that’s why it bothers you so much. … She doesn’t believe in dimming your light. She wants you to shine as bright as you can.”
Jeannette inspires her students as well. Despite her brother’s passing, her surgeries, developing Hashimoto’s disease and the added stress of coaching during a pandemic, Jeannette said she tried to spend just as much time focusing on her athletes’ mental health as she did their physical health.
“She pushed us to our max and that’s great because most coaches won’t do that for us,” said sophomore Brynlee Wilson. “She just supports us in whatever we do and is very helpful if we need something in or out of the weight room. … She’s definitely a role model.”
While her brother is no longer here, she felt there were so many others now who have come to rely on and take inspiration from her strength. Others helped her see her new purpose was to help others heal.
“Everywhere, every gas station we go, everyone has a story,” Jeannette said. “If you aren’t being affected by it, someone who you know is. Generations are being wiped away. … I always said if I could just impact one person, I know that it’s worth it.”
Jeannette said she’s not a cyclist and she doesn’t have much time to train when she’s working with eight high school sports teams. But more than anything, she is determined.
Her journey will begin Monday in Cincinnati. She’ll ride through Indiana and Illinois, and she’ll cross the finish line on Oct. 8 at 530 Clark Avenue in Union, Missouri.
Even though Karl can’t be there to ride the Bike450 with her like they had planned, or be able to wait for her at the finish line, his eldest daughter will join Jeannette on Karl’s bike to help her finish the ride.
Jeannette said she’s not sure how she’s going to feel about her brother’s absence until she crosses the finish line. It won’t quite be the same. But it’s her purpose nonetheless.
“I’ve got to show them that you still have hope,” Jeannette said. “My hope isn’t here anymore. But you have it. And though I’ll be jealous, I hope your outcome is different.”
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