Villa Maria Academy Displays Thoughtful Gesture At McQuaid Invitational

The girls on the Erie Villa Maria Academy girls cross country team didn't know Claire Allen or anyone on the Geneseo High program personally. 

In fact, they were separated by state lines and nearly 160 miles. 

But it didn't take much to convince the team -- the three-time defending champions in Class AA in Pennsylvania -- to honor the 14-year-old girl who was killed in a tragic car accident on September 7 while running along Route 39 during a training run in Geneseo, New York. 

"It could have been any of them," said Therese Brown, the head coach of Erie Villa Maria. "And they realized that. It touched close to home and it was meaningful, so they decided to honor her. After something like this, they kind of understand not to take life for granted." 

Scheduled to compete at the McQuaid Invitational at Genesee Valley Park in Rochester on Saturday, Brown took one last look at the website before her team began their trip to New York. 

Read: Claire Allen Killed In Tragic Accident While During Cross Country Training Run

She noticed a new message to those attending: 

"To honor the memory of this remarkable young lady," the message wrote, "Geneseo will be using the colors purple and lime green. McQuaid runners will wear a lime green band at the Invitational. We invite all schools to join us with your token of remembrance." 

In past seasons, Brown's teams had always found purpose ahead of races, sometimes running for specific causes or moments. In years prior, though, it had always been about internal motivations rather than external. 

"We've been a fortunate team in that for the past three seasons we've been state champions," said Brown, whose runners attend a small Catholic school in northwest Pennsylvania. "We've had a lot of successes. And in years past, we've prayed for strength in our races. 

"But this year we decided it was a season of thanksgiving," she added. "We wanted to be thankful for all we have and we wanted to keep that in mind when we ran. So once I saw the message on the website, that was it." 

The team decided to make about 40 black and pink ribbons in honor of Allen -- the website initially had asked teams to wear black wristbands, but later changed it to green and purple, which were Allen's favorite colors. 

Villa Maria Academy runners pinned the ribbons to their bibs and to the collar on the jersey shoulder.

"We just want to offer prayers to help anyone who was suffering," Brown said.

Many more teams beyond Villa Maria Academy also displayed thoughtful gestures, including wristbands and other tokens of respect. 

In many ways, the entire meet honored Allen in some small way. 

And even though Villa Maria Academy didn't have its best race, finishing fourth in the AA section and 16th overall in the merge, Brown wasn't too worried about where the team was headed. 

"When our runners our struggling in a race, they call to mind other things that inspire them," Brown said. "In our faith, we have an understand that when you endure suffering, you can offer it for the good of someone else. We try to keep that truth and use it, hoping to run for more than a race." 

The team took a picture of the ribbons and posted them to Twitter afterward, hoping the message might reach Allen's team in some small way.


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