After running the Quad-City Times Bix 7 for 23 years, Bob Hensley from Duluth, Minn., will have a special companion for this year’s event — his half sister from Bettendorf.
Cindy Bleich will participate for the first time after the two siblings who share a common father were united earlier this year. They plan to walk the route together, along with their spouses.
Neither Tammy Hensley nor Cindy Bleich knew what magic was awaiting their families when they each were working on the genealogy website Ancestry.com earlier this year and found the family connection.
Bleich, 64, and her husband, George, 71, are now hosting the Hensleys for the weekend and the race.
The story starts in January, Tammy Hensley said. She was doing some work on Ancestry.com when she received a match for Bob’s family tree through his father, William Ralph Hensley, who passed away in 2007.
Before marrying Bob’s mother, William Hensley had been married to Cindy’s mother.
“I was looking at it and asking my husband about it,” Tammy Hensley, 39, said. “The things that he was saying were matching what I was seeing.
“I sent an email to the person who put the Hensley family tree together,” she added. “I told them, ‘You may be related to my husband.’ ”
“I thought maybe I’d hear something, if anything, in a few months, if ever,” she said.
The person who received the email was Cindy Bleich, who also is a child of William Ralph Hensley. She didn’t waste time. Bleich, a retired early childhood education teacher, sent back an email immediately.
“I sent an email saying I’d be interested in talking to him,” Bleich said. “He was at work, but later that evening I received an email from him saying he was excited and delighted to have found me.
“My heart was just pounding. I’ve been very close to my own extended family, so I wasn’t searching for anyone,” she said. “But here was this person from the same blood line, and he turned out to be a person I could relate to.”
They met for the first time at the end of March in a restaurant halfway between Duluth and Minneapolis. Cindy Bleich was going to see her mother in Minneapolis, so it was a perfect time. They spent five hours chatting.
“For me, it’s nothing short of remarkable,” said Bob Hensley, 45, a professor of psychology at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. “This is such a great connection. It’s made me feel younger.”
Bleich said she always thought there were other siblings out there, the children of William Hensley.
“We just found lots of things in common and have enjoyed the relationship we started,” she added.
George Bleich said he has run the Bix 7 for 25 years. Bob Hensley has run it for 23 years.
“I also volunteer and hand out T-shirts,” George Bleich said. “It’s very possible I handed him his shirt and never knew.”
Cindy Bleich said she could have seen her half-brother running up Brady Street all these years and never knew it.
Tammy Hensley said there was one year Bob ended up in the medical tent with heat exhaustion. That same year, George Bleich was in the tent, too. “They could have been right next to each other,” she said.
Bob Hensley said a new tradition has started for the family.
“We used to stay in Muscatine each year,” he said. “Cindy told me, ‘You will always have a place to stay here for the Bix.”