KAPALKO: Athletes remember Virginia Tech one year after

Jamie Kapalko

We do what we can.

How else can you explain the myriad of ways people cope with tragedy? The ways we memorialize a loss? The ways we move forward – with our sadness, not past it?

Yesterday was A Day of Remembrance at Virginia Tech, one year after the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history left 33 students and faculty members dead on the university’s campus. A year ago the school was frozen with shock and grief. Yesterday it was as alive as it’s ever been – though, of course, changed.

Throughout the week they marked the anniversary of the massacre by celebrating what they could do. A slide show showed the way the community banded together for support in the aftermath. Artwork created by the university’s artists as a response to the tragedy was exhibited. Students were given the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings through singing and playing music, dancing and poetry reading.

Not everyone is a poet or a dancer. But everyone can do something to heal and honor.

Drew Weaver can play golf. Remarkably well, in fact. Well enough to help the Hokies claim a piece of the ACC title a week after he walked out of class to see S.W.A.T. teams surrounding a nearby building and ran from the gunshots he heard inside. Well enough to win the British Amateur two months later – the first American to do so since 1972 – and qualify for last weekend’s Masters.

Meredith Herrmann can run. She’s not on the track team at Tech, but she loves running. Her dad does marathons, and she wanted to do one after college when she could devote time to training. But when the school she has so much spirit for was suffering, when the names of people she knew became names read at memorial services, when a couple of Tech marathoners secured 100 bibs for the Marine Corps Marathon in October, she decided that the time was now.

The time was last Thursday for Weaver. On golf’s biggest stage the weekend before the anniversary, he wore a hat with the VT logo and teed off at Augusta. When his name was announced at the first tee, the crowd – full of not only his own family and friends but also Virginia Tech supporters – yelled, “Go Hokies!” The pressure was intense, with the entire university community behind him, but he was eager to accept the challenge.

“Hopefully I can keep on trying to represent the university in a good way,” he said. “That’s my main goal. It is why I wear the Virginia Tech logo and carry the bag. I just want to do it for them.”

Do it for them – that was Herrmann’s mantra on the hot, thick-aired August days she spent training for the marathon. She ran six days a week, following a program her father set up. On the bad days, she wondered if it was worth all the effort. But then she reminded herself that one of the victims had been a marathoner, and he couldn’t run anymore. But she could.

“On the really hard days, if I had to run 12 miles, I made sure I knew a [victim’s] name for each mile,” Herrmann said. “It was like I was training for those other people.”

Weaver had the Hokie Nation behind him, but remaining composed was all up to him. On Thursday, he finished with a four-over 76.

“While I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, I thought I played pretty solid,” he said. “I was trying to concentrate out there, but it’s hard not to notice all the support and friends I had.”

The support is what gave Herrmann what she calls “ridiculous energy” during the marathon. She was nervous in the morning, faced with the challenge of running 26.2 miles – a distance she’d never run before. She wore a Virginia Tech singlet, like many of the other Hokie runners, and the school logo elicited cheers from every fan she passed.

“It made me run faster,” she said. “Between [miles] 16 and 20, there aren’t any fans, and I wasn’t running with anyone, so that was the hardest part. At mile 22 you’re supposed to hit your wall. You feel like you’re gonna collapse and die. That was my fastest mile in the whole marathon.

“The last mile I was basically sprinting,” she said. “I felt like I could run 10 more miles afterwards.”

Weaver shot an 8-over 80 on Friday, finishing 12-over for the tournament and missing the cut. Herrmann finished the marathon in 4:39:16, placing 363 out of the 784 runners in her division and 10,789 out of 202,625 overall.

Does it matter?

They did what they could. They did it for the victims, the community and themselves. For some people, it’s music or art. And for some people, it’s sports. And even though nothing about dribbling or hitting speaks directly to mourning, celebrating and healing, it says a whole lot. Sports are an important part of our lives. Not just for our viewing pleasure, but for our emotional well-being.

It says, as Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech and Grammy-nominated poet Nikki Giovanni did a year ago today, “We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies. We will prevail.”

And they have.


Jamie Kapalko is a junior English major from Belmar, N.J. She can be reached at [email protected]