On Sunday morning, July 15, over 400 community members donned orange and maroon and gathered to honor Leslie Sherman at Burke Lake Park. Applause and cheers met Kelly Ann Osborn and Ashley Hughes, two of the organizers of the run, as they faced the crowd and announced the results of the day. The run raised more than $11,000 for the Leslie Sherman Memorial Scholarship.
"It’s incredible that even the memory of Leslie will continue to help so many others," said Dan Plehal, Sherman’s former high school classmate.
Three months after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, in which Sherman was killed along with 31 other students by shooter Cho Seung-Hui, members of the West Springfield community assembled at the starting line of the 5K memorial run. Conversations of remembrance took the place of usual pre-race jitters. "I couldn't help but think that the one person missing from that line was Leslie," said former high school classmate Emily Boling. Competition was not the order of the day.
In the final minutes before the run began, Coach Duke Baird, Leslie’s former cross-country coach at West Springfield High School, channeled the crowd’s energy. "Let’s have a moment of jubilation," he said. A roar of cheers and chants of "Let’s Go Hokies!" echoed throughout the park in response.
At the sound of the gun, the runners crossed the starting line. Beginning to confront the hills and heat, they reflected on the many times that Sherman trod that same path.
Kim Hogan, former high school teammate of Sherman’s, could not have imagined a better send-off for the run. Remembering Sherman as an athlete and a friend, she commented that the energetic, enthusiastic atmosphere was perfectly fitting. "She was always so high-energy and full of spirit." At cross-country events, Hogan continued, Sherman was the first to support and cheer everyone on.
OUT ON THE TRAIL, high school classmate Dhrupad Bezboruah noted the wide range of community participation with satisfaction. Friends, family, classmates, teachers, parents and area residents were united in her memory. "I’m sure Leslie must be up there with her whitest smile," he said with a smile of his own.
Eric Rissell, followed closely by Steve Tobin, a West Springfield graduate, completed the course first, but few kept track of specific times.
Looking around at the sea of post-race orange, Valerie Parr felt the distance dwindle between Blacksburg and Burke Lake. As a fellow student of Sherman’s at West Springfield and Virginia Tech, Parr appreciated the community support. She expressed that seeing everyone gathered together in orange attire brought Virginia Tech to Northern Virginia.
The presence of Virginia Tech alumni, such as Jim MacLean, helped to create this effect for students like Parr. Though MacLean had not known Sherman personally, members of his family have carried the Spartan name proudly for 20 years, and are graduates of Virginia Tech. His family took part in the run to display its love for both the Spartans and the Hokies. MacLean even brought along his young children, Mia and Ian, two "future Hokies."
U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), who took part in the run and contributed $500 to the cause, also commented on the tremendous community involvement. Like many other participants who had never met Sherman, he said that "the whole community feels as if they knew her" on a day like today. "It’s a great way to remember what a brilliant life was lost."
SITTING IN THE middle of the large crowd, Marianne Sherman said she could sense this same community presence. Referring to herself as Sherman’s "Auntie Marianne," she mentioned that it was "just wonderful" to see how many friends Leslie Sherman had, and how many lives she touched. With great admiration, she recalled Leslie’s intelligence, love of languages and desire to help others. "Some people just have it easier in life, and Leslie made sure to share her wealth."
Organizers of the Run for Leslie were thrilled with the results of their work. Nerves had arisen after they encountered initial setbacks obtaining a permit for the run and were forced to cancel their first planned date. Former classmate and teammate Heather Sikes reported that they were overjoyed to have surpassed their expectations for the event, despite those initial troubles.
When asked if the Run for Leslie would continue annually, Sikes said that they were looking to continue the memorial run for the next couple years, at the very least. "We’ll see where that takes us," she said.
Baird reiterated the wish to organize runs in the future, and praised Sherman’s former cross-country teammates for their hard work on Sunday. While he assisted with preparations, he admitted that his work was minimal. "The girls did all the leg-work," he said. "And it was a perfect tribute. Simple and perfect."