With her broad smile, Letitie Clark greeted the dozens of children Saturday who had gathered to race along the Augusta Canal in memory of her son, Ryan.
The smile is always present – in the car line at Blue Ridge Elementary School when Clark greets the children as they get out of the cars and buses, in the hallways and in the classroom when the paraprofessional fills in and helps teach classes.
The grief is always present, too. Her son died 15 years ago during the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007. On that day, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people, including Ryan Clark who was a dormitory resident assistant. He died trying to shield another student from Cho’s gunfire.
“It’s been 15 years, but it seems like yesterday,” Letitie Clark told the children and parents who had gathered for the race.
Each year she organizes the 5-kilometer race to raise funds for the Ryan Clark Scholarship. She gives three awards annually – $2,000, $1,000 and $500, to deserving students going to college.
Even before Clark yelled go, the boys and girls, wearing their race bib numbers and Ryan Clark Scholarship T-shirts, dashed across the starting line. They stomped across the bridge going over the canal at the Savannah River Rapids park in Evans and down the canal path.
Anderan Brooks brought her twin sons Seth and Ethan, 9, and their sister Skyler, 10, to race.
“They’re very aware of what happened,” she said as she pinned on their numbers before the race. “Kids, why are you here and what are you supporting?”
“Ryan Clark,” all three said in unison.
“Yes,” their mother said. Her children also knew about the shooting and how Ryan Clark tried to save others.
There was a large crew of volunteers, mostly teachers and administrators from the school. Rickey Jones was also there to help. He won the scholarship in 2013 and used it to help pay for his undergraduate degree in fashion design from Georgia Southern University.
As the race clock passed 21 minutes, the first runner, the husband of one teacher, crossed the line. The crowd cheered, but not as loudly as they did about two minutes later when John Rayburn sprinted across the line. He is 12 and a fifth grader at Blue Ridge.
The first one to greet the winner was Letitie Clark with her huge smile and a race medal for the boy.
“Congratulations!” she beamed.