It was a chance to celebrate and remember an individual whose life was tragically cut short.
For members of the St. Raphael cross-country team, last Saturday’s 20th annual Shawn Nassaney Memorial 5K Invitational represented a chance to learn outside the classroom – the blackboard replaced by the wood-covered trails at Bryant University.
None of the current SRA runners were alive when Nassaney and his girlfriend Lynn Goodchild boarded Flight 175 out of Boston the morning of September 11, 2001. Neither Nassaney nor Goodchild reached their final destination. Both were on the plane that struck one of the Twin Towers in New York City – an act of terrorism that claimed the lives of so many innocent individuals.
A 1994 graduate of St. Raphael who went on to run at Bryant, Nassaney embodied the drive and determination that’s preached to today’s group of harriers. Talent may have its rightful place, yet having that will to push through obstacles is a lesson that you won’t find in textbooks or Chromebooks.
“Not too many people had heard about Shawn,” said Kerri Ramos, the St. Raphael assistant coach who deserves credit for helping the team understand who Nassaney was not only as a person but as a runner.
“It was nice to let them know about Shawn and how important he was to developing the program into what it is today,” added Ramos. “The coaches are different from when Shawn was there, but if you think about it, it’s kind of similar because myself and [head coach Chris Magill] were runners for [former St. Raphael head coach Jim Doyle, now at Bishop Hendricken].”
“We have had so many kids in recent seasons who have followed in Shawn’s footsteps. I don’t know if it’s because of the philosophy that we teach that was kind of taught to us where you’re not just out here to be number one. You’re here to do the best you can,” said Ramos. “We’ve pointed to examples of where hard work pays off and Shawn is a prime example.”
To St. Raphael juniors Devan Kipyego, Pedro Mayol, and Tyla Forbes, the days leading up to joining those in remembrance at Bryant were spent learning about the qualities that helped distinguish Nassaney as a high school runner who personified what it meant to empty the proverbial bucket. Again, this is where Ramos’ firsthand knowledge of Nassaney proved to be most valuable.
“Whether they were a top-seven runner on the varsity or the JV runners, Shawn was always encouraging his teammates to do the best they could,” said Ramos, a 1992 graduate of St. Raphael. “It was definitely something special for them to partake in.”
Through the grapevine, whispers abounded that last Saturday would mark the final run in Nassaney’s memory. Hence, there was added significance to have a strong St. Raphael presence at Bryant since last Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
“Anyone who’s run cross-country knows that it’s a different kind of sport. It’s almost an extended family,” said Ramos. “The impact that Shawn had on his teammates during his time at St. Raphael speaks volumes when you see so many runners from different [SRA] classes show up to the memorial run year after year.”
Along for this special ride were Kipyego, Mayol, and Forbes as well as the rest of their St. Raphael teammates – running and further grasping the spirit of an individual who took pride in representing his school in cross-country and track.
“Participating in something so important … it felt great to support his family,” said Forbes. “Hearing Coach Ramos’ stories about Shawn really hit home.”
Added Mayol, “Being there for Shawn years after what had happened and running in his memory, it was really powerful and a great experience. The majority of what I know about him is because of this race. It’s unfortunate this could be the last one, but after 20 years, it’s great to see something like this bring a whole bunch of people together. To see how much of an impact he had even to this day, it shows what a great person he was.”
Stated Kipyego, “Running in that race, it’s so meaningful for the Saints’ community. We were definitely educated on what happened. He’s someone who’ll never be forgotten.”
At one point Saturday, the SRA runners decided to run next to and around Ramos – a sea of runners cloaked in purple and gold jersey tops surrounding the assistant coach who mobilized an effort that stretched well beyond mile splits and final kicks.
Call it the perfect way of saying thank you to an individual for helping to shed light on a former St. Raphael runner – someone whose memory has officially been passed down to the most current generation.
“You hear the stories,” said Magill. “Hopefully they now have a better appreciation and understanding of what happened.”
GAMETIME High School Football kicks off on October 1st as Bishop Hendricken takes on Catholic Memorial at 7:00pm LIVE on YURVIEW.