Hundreds of members of the running community came together to participate in the 10th annual Memory of the 8 run and had another successful turnout Wednesday night.
The run is scheduled for Sept. 16 each year to mark the anniversary of when eight University of Wyoming cross-country runners were killed by a drunken driver in 2001.
One of the runners, Morgan McLeland, was a Gillette native and a Campbell County High School graduate.
“It makes a hard day easier for the family,” said Sonny Roberts, who coordinates the annual race. “We’re there to celebrate who they were.”
The message of the race is to realize the dangers of drunk driving, Roberts said.
The event is for “remembering the tragedy that happened and what impaired driving does,” Roberts said. “Hopefully, these things remind people that when they’re out somewhere they shouldn’t take the risk. Call someone.”
Sept. 16 is always a hard day for Debbie and Jim McLeland, Morgan’s parents, but the Memory of the 8 run is a good reminder of what the Gillette community means to them and their family.
“This is a tremendous boost for us,” Jim said. “To have the people in the community come together and to see all the runners and to see the various kids out there running. Most of the kids out there weren’t even born yet when Morgan was still running, but he just had a love for running.
“He really loved to run so it’s so exciting to have this event and to remember those eight young men.”
As much as the event is about remembering those runners lost, it’s also become a way to bring people together, Debbie said.
“A lot of Morgan’s friends and teammates seem to be willing to try to get here and even people that never knew Morgan are a part of it,” Debbie said. “Runners just have an interesting brotherhood or sisterhood where they just are really close. And they continue to be.
“I think it really is just a positive thing, and I thank Sonny every single day for it.”
A colorful reminder of the community support was on display this week, highlighted by a rainbow representing different cross-country teams from all across the area.
High school cross-country teams from Campbell County, Thunder Basin and Wright participated in the 5K event alongside younger runners from Twin Spruce and Sage Valley Junior High.
It’s a cross-country tradition for the schools to come show support for the Memory of the 8, Sage Valley coach Kayla Griffis said, something they’ve been doing since the creation of the event.
“It’s a very important message,” Griffis said. “It’s important for our runners to recognize what goes on in our community and what has happened. It’s a great opportunity for awareness for the situation that had happened.
“It also gives them a chance to see all runners’ abilities and runners of all ages participate while also representing our community in a positive fashion.”
Coaches like CCHS cross-country coach Trisha Evenson ran alongside her runners in support of the Memory of the 8. The running community supports the local cross-country teams and this is their time to return the support, Evenson said.
Griffis agreed, saying nearly half of the Sage Valley cross-country team made it out to the event. While it is an optional race on the team’s schedule, Griffis said she never has any trouble recruiting her students to turn out.
“I think every year they have worked to improve it from the prior year,” Jim said. “I just think they do a tremendous job. One of the many things I’m thankful about it is how they really try to bring in those high school and junior high cross-country teams into it and get them involved in it.
“It’s always a positive thing to have them there and to see them try to encourage those runners,” Jim said.