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Votes

A Race for Kelley

Del Ray run/walk will raise money for a multi-sensory room.

The family and friends of Kelley Swanson had been waiting for more than an hour. The City Council’s docket was crammed with resolutions, proclamations, contested board appointments and various ordinances. They sat in the back, quietly waiting for docket item 22. Eventually, 62 minutes into the meeting, the mayor called on the item they came to support.

Docket item 22 had an innocuous title: “Consideration of a Request to Hold a Race in Honor of Kelley Swanson in the Del Ray Area on Saturday, June 3.” Nevertheless, about 50 people sat in the back rows of council chambers to make a visible show of support. They were there to honor Swanson, the 18-year-old soccer fanatic who unexpectedly died from septicemia several days after graduating from T.C. Williams High School last year.

“I know that there are a lot of people who are here tonight to make sure that we do the right thing,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka. “Since we don’t have a public forum tonight, I’d like to ask them to stand up.”

With that, the Kelley Swanson fan club silently rose. The mass of people at the back of the chamber was a striking group, and the look of determination on their faces was evident. A palpable sadness hung in the air as they stood there, silently supporting a fundraising race to honor their daughter, sister, friend and teammate. When they sat down, Krupicka made a motion to allow the event. Vice Mayor Pepper seconded the motion, and then the City Council voted unanimously to allow the race to wind through the streets of Del Ray and Rosemont.

LINDSEY SWANSON, Kelley Swanson’s sister, was responsible for rounding up the group and making sure they showed up to City Hall. In the year since her sister’s passing, she has become the leader of a new foundation to continue her sister’s life work — using the teamwork of sportsmanship to help children with special needs.

“Kelley had a passion for life that was unparalleled,” said Lindsey Swanson. “We wanted to do something to honor her, and this race seemed like the perfect way to do it.”

The race has already raised about $30,000, and the foundation’s goal it to raise $62,000. A multi-sensory room will be donated to the city’s Therapeutic Recreation Section, an organization that Kelley Swanson had been involved with for eight of her 18 years. On Sundays, she made her way out to Simpson Field to play sports with children with special needs.

“It was exhilarating for her,” Lindsey Swanson said. “She looked forward to it every week, and she loved the kids.”

On the field, Kelley Swanson’s friends were not children with “special needs.” They were teammates — working toward a common goal. For Swanson, it was a way to play sports and have fun while doing something good. For the children who participated in the program, it was an unforgettable experience that local organizers call “buddy sports.”

“Kelley was a tireless volunteer to the program, offering her time and energy to buddy baseball, basketball and soccer programs,” wrote Kelley Swanson’s father, Sanden Swanson, in support of the City Council’s approval of the race. “Kelley always put words into action in supporting this recreation program. She never thought of her support as anything other than giving Alexandria’s children an opportunity to have fun.”

THE KELLEY CARES 5K Run/Walk will snake through Del Ray and Rosemont on June 3, streets on which Swanson was a familiar figure for many years. Registration starts at 6:45 a.m., but those interested can pre-register at kellycares.org. The race will start at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of George Washington Middle School, which is directly behind the Braddock Road Metro station.

The course will begin at George Washington Middle School and continue through the neighboring Rosemont and Del Ray communities before finishing back at the school. For organizers, it was important to hold the race in these areas because of their importance to Kelley Swanson.

“Kelley was a seventh-generation Alexandrian,” Lindsey Swanson said. “She had deep roots in the city, and she knew these streets very well.”

The course will start by heading north on Mount Vernon Avenue, turning left on Luray Avenue and then heading north on Commonwealth Avenue. Participants will make a U-turn at Uhler Avenue and then head south to Chaplan Street — eventually turning left on Mount Vernon to circle back to the middle school.

“Kelley Swanson lived much of her life in the Del Ray area, and we believe this is a fitting tribute to her legacy,” wrote Del Ray Citizens Association President Laurie MacNamara in a letter supporting creation of the race. “We are offering out full support to this worthwhile event.”