(Posted Sept. 10, 2020)
Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
“I feel like she’s still with me,” said Angela Ackley-Everhart about her classmate and cross country teammate, Erin Nance, who passed away as a result of a car accident in 1998, their senior year at London High School.
Erin’s presence has manifested itself in different ways over the years. After graduation, Ackley-Everhart ran cross country at Heidelberg College. The transition from high school to college meant getting to know a new coach and new teammates and making new friends. On a day when she was struggling with these changes, during the course of a run, Ackley-Everhart caught a whiff of Snuggle fabric softener and immediately felt encouraged. She and her London teammates would tease Erin about smelling like Snuggle, a product Erin’s mother, Connie, used liberally.
Ackley-Everhart felt Erin’s presence on her wedding day, too.
“I had a piece of blue ribbon I was going to put on my dress, because, you know, you’re supposed to wear something blue on your wedding day,” she said. “The ribbon was what we wore on our jerseys after Erin passed away, and I wore it at Heidelberg, too.”
When it came time to walk down the aisle, Ackley-Everhart realized she had forgotten to attach the ribbon to her dress. She became emotional, but then the light flickered in the hallway where she was waiting with her family members.
“It was like Erin was telling me, ‘It’s OK you forgot it. I’m still here.’”
Ackley-Everhart felt that connection most recently after learning that this year’s Erin L. Nance Fall Distance Classic will not take place. Originally known as the London Invitational, the massive cross country meet normally takes place each fall at the London Country Club. Last year, 700 high schoolers and 300 middle schoolers competed.
After Erin’s passing, the meet was renamed in her honor. That same year, Erin’s parents, Terry and Connie, established a scholarship fund to benefit graduating London High School seniors, selling t-shirts and collecting donations for parking at the meet. Terry was a long-time coach, athletic director and teacher for London City Schools, and he has served as the meet’s manager for nearly its entire existence.
In a statement released on Aug. 29, Terry and Connie announced that this year’s meet, originally slated for Oct. 3, had been cancelled. Terry shared the news on Facebook a few days later.
“The event is kind of special. It’s not like your typical cross country meet; it’s a celebration of Erin’s life,” Terry said. “To apply the necessary COVID-19 protocols would have been a tremendous amount of work, and the meet wouldn’t have been the same.”
One of the protocols required a reduction in participants, and Terry said he couldn’t see shutting out anyone; many have participated for years and become friends. Logistics, such as holding more races with fewer participants per race, and manpower for sanitation also were factors in the decision to cancel.
“It was a hard decision. It was disheartening, but in a sense it wasn’t because it makes sense. We’ll come back next year, bigger and better,” he said.
News of the cancellation was “upsetting,” Ackley-Everhart said. A regular volunteer at the event, she looks forward to meeting up with former teammates and friends each year, reminiscing, and doing her part to keep Erin’s memory alive–a promise she made to Connie 22 years ago.
She was processing the news when she came to a stop sign after dropping her daughter and her daughter’s friend off at cheer/tumbling practice.
“A butterfly came toward my car windshield. It did a little weird dance…and then a big orange butterfly joined it. I just sat there and watched. They were intertwining and dancing with each other. It seemed like the world stopped,” she said.
Like many times before, Ackley-Everhart said, Erin was sending her a sign when she needed it.
Some of those who responded to Terry’s Facebook announcement asked if they could still donate to the scholarship fund even though the meet isn’t taking place this year. That’s when Ackley-Everhart got the idea to start a gofundme page.
“Terry is not one to throw a hand out and ask for help, but I thought, ‘It needs to be done,’ and that’s when I called Amy (Brake) and said, ‘Let’s do this together.’”
Brake was a freshman at London High School and a member of the cross country team the year that Erin passed away.
“That team and that whole class of 1998 will never forget that tragedy,” she said. “Things have changed in 22 years, but this will never change. I will never stop volunteering for this.”
Every year, Brake and her family help to collect donations for parking at the meet.
“We love the fact that Erin’s memory lives on in this scholarship and event,” she said.
She also loves that the London community at large, not just people connected with the meet, have embraced the gofundme effort. In the first four days, the page brought in $3,185 in donations.
Ackley-Everhart and Brake started with a goal of $2,000. They plan to keep the page open until Sept. 20, Terry’s birthday, then personally deliver the funds to Terry and Connie.
Terry said the gofundme effort came as a surprise to him and Connie.
“We appreciate it,” he said.
To date, the Erin L. Nance Memorial Scholarship Fund has raised approximately $54,000 and benefited more than 70 London students.
Anyone interested in donating through the gofundme effort can visit “Erin L. Nance Scholarship Fund CC Classic.”