ROAKOKE, Va. — For Shirley Young, finishing the race is part of keeping the faith. At 84, she’s walking in “Run With Grace” to honor a friend who died before she could finish her own races.
Grace Lovegrove donated four of her body’s organs when she died. Something else about Grace lives on in Shirley Young.
Young has walked in the annual Run with Grace 5K each year since the memorial fundraiser began in 2006, one year after Lovegrove’s sudden death.
“I love the Lord and Grace did, too,” Young said. “That is my connection with her — the spiritual.”
Lovegrove, a former track star at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke Va., died Jan. 12, 2005, two days after collapsing during a training run at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va. She was 18.
An otherwise healthy college freshman, Lovegrove died from cardiac arrest after an electrical imbalance stopped her heart. Friends and teammates started the memorial run to raise money for her high school track team, and to fund a scholarship at Patrick Henry in her name.
Young met Lovegrove at Rosalind Hills Baptist Church when Lovegrove was in fifth grade. The 10-year-old eagerly answered when Young asked children to name the books of the Bible, earning Lovegrove a crisp $5 bill.
The two remained close through Lovegrove’s middle and high school years, Young said.
“She was unusual in that she was kind to older people, and younger children, and to everybody,” Young said. “You don’t see that a lot of times in teens.”
Community members organized the first Run with Grace event a year after Lovegrove’s death and Young was one of the first participants to sign up.
“I loved her, and I wanted to support something that would keep her memory alive,” Young said. “It’s a fun thing for me as well as something I feel good about doing — to honor the Lord and to honor Grace.”
Young hasn’t let her age or the fact that she’s legally blind prevent her from walking in the race. Even though her daughter walks in the race ahead of her to point out obstacles, Young has taken a fall while participating every year, save one.
At the first race in 2006, Young tumbled in the mud toward the end of the 5K. Bloodied and dirty, she insisted on finishing.
“I told her, ‘You could just walk the field here and go across the finish line,’” said Rick Lovegrove, Grace Lovegrove’s father. “She just looked at me and said, ‘No. I’m going to finish this.’ ” The race includes a 1-mile fun run, but Young said it’s not for her.
“I’m committed to do it [walk in the event] just as long as I can move my legs,” she said.
Young walks daily around her apartment complex on Grandin Road. Four laps around the parking lot adds up to about 1 mile.
“I promised my children I’d stay on the sidewalks,” she said. With eight children and 12 grandchildren, Young said she still thinks of Lovegrove as her own daughter.
“I think of her often when I’m walking,” she said. “It makes me feel young all over again.”
Reprinted with permission from the Roanoke Times.