Monday, May 10, 2010

Capon Valley

photo by Matt Riley

Before I was an ultrarunner, I was a lacrosse player. I picked up a stick (also known as a "crosse") during my freshman year in high school and instantly fell in love with the sport. I loved the speed, the ball movement, and the grace of the women's game, and spent hours throwing the ball against a wall perfecting my moves. Ultimately I ended up playing for four years at the University of Virginia and then for three years for the United States Women's Lacrosse Team. I represented the US in international tournaments after college and loved every minute of it.

As time went on, I branched out to other sports (triathlon, marathon, ultras) but lacrosse has always been my first love, and it defined my career choices. My first job out of college was coaching at an all-girl's private school in Baltimore. I was a graduate assistant coach at UVA while pursuing my masters degree in counseling, and I have been the JV girls coach at my school here in Charlottesville since 1995. I also coach a club team and my daughter's middle school team. My son is going to play in college next year for one of my dear friends who played on the men's team when I was on the women's team at UVA.

Lacrosse is a family. We are coaches, teachers, players, parents, umpires, and spectators. We love and respect the game, and one another. And, just like ultrarunning, we are a small, tight-knit community that is often misrepresented by the media.

So you can imagine the range of emotions that were flowing through my heart and mind last Monday, May 3, when we heard the news of Yeardley Love's death. As the school counselor, I had to hold myself together as I helped my students --who were coached by Yeardley at camp--come to terms with her murder. I also spent the week discussing the issues of domestic violence and substance abuse with my freshmen students. I read the damning media reports, cried with my colleagues and former UVA teammates, and attempted to coach my team and wrap up our season.

I was looking forward to coming to Capon Valley 50K on Saturday as a respite from the stress of the week, but instead found that I had no energy to run. I was happy to be there and see my friends, and grateful to be healthy and spending the day in the woods, but the emotional upheaval of the past week kept me from being able to run any faster than an easy trot. This was new to me---I never had come into a race unable to "race" when I was ready. At first I was frustrated, but then I realized that it just wasn't my day to race, so I spent the rest of the miles enjoying the great weather, listening to my sister's new album on my iPod, and thinking about Yeardley.

At the post run lunch, while everyone was talking about their great races, Tom Corris turned to me and said, "I am sorry about what happened in your neck of the woods last week." Such a simple comment, but so meaningful. I promptly burst into tears and bawled for a bit, and everyone at the table was understanding and supportive. Thanks, friends.

There's been much written about what happened to Yeardley. I won't use this post to go into all the details, but I do want to reinforce a plea that UVA President John Casteen made to those attending the candlelight vigil on Wednesday night: "Seek the support that belongs to you, because you belong to us." Yes, let's make sure we take care of one another.

Sometimes the tragedies of life intersect with our life on the trails. The cliche is true---we can try to run, but we cannot hide from these feelings. We can only accept them, embrace them, and then let them go. That's my plan for today.

1, 2, 3, 4: Together, Hoos.

Yeardley Love Women's Lacrosse Scholarship information


Rick Gray said...

During the course of our lives we are many different things. As you pointed out before you were an ultrarunner, you were a locrosse player. The love of the sport has continued on until this day and it will continue on into the future. But you are so much more than either of those. Being a wife and mother rank right at the top, but what you have been doing this past week is so much more important right now. You have been there for your students and players. You have and will continue to councel them through this tough time. As your players have nicknamed you "Shining", your true being is Shining before them. Continue to take care of these young people in your special way.

And Miles 2 Go said...

OK. I am crying. And I am also grateful. Grateful that you care so much. Grateful that you touch so many with your grace and your strength. And grateful that you are my friend.

Mike Bailey said...


Thank you for putting some well needed perspective into my day. I had the opportunity to enjoy Capon Valley more than I did, but I allowed something as trivial as running off course 2 miles kill the spirit of my run. When I heard about Yeardley, I absolutely did think of you and your LAX girls. The "real" world and the running world can never truly be separated because we are but one person living in both. The weight of the trial's of one and the beauty of the thrill of the other cannot simply be kept apart. My thoughts are with you and the whole UVA family.

Take care,
Mike "A JMU Duke" Bailey

Wendy Thomson said...

Soph...I didn't know Yeardley but she seemed like a wonderul young lady. This very unfortunate event made me think of our Uva lacrosse team and how close we all were. I can only imagine what her family, teammates, and friends are going through. My prayers will be with you and everyone that her life touched. It is times like these that I need to look back and realize how greatful I am for everyone that touched my life at UVa...especially my teammates. When you touch someone's life you are always in their heart no matter how long it has been or how far away you live from each other. A piece of me will always be on that Uva. lacrosse field and for those awesome memories I am thankful! In the same way Yeardley will live in the hearts and memories of the people that she knew. May her life be a blessing always. Miss you my friend and teammate!!

meredith said...

What a tough week. I am so sorry for what you went through and so impressed for you even showing up to the starting line on Saturday. You are so very strong!!

See you soon :)

ultrarunnergirl said...

Glad to see you Sophie, and so sorry for this tragedy. I hope you healed a little bit more out on the trail. I know your strength helped so many of your students through this tough time.

Sophie Speidel said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments everyone. It really helped me to write this and to hear from all of you. See you soon...

Happy Trails,

Sophie Speidel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
olga said...

Sophie, I was wondering who that "chick" was! Thanks for cheering me on, and yes, it is an AWESOME event, I am coming back at first opportunity, like next year!

Bedrock said...


That is a terrible tragedy and I am not surprised it has affected you so. I played club lacrosse in college and felt the same level of camraderie as I did with my baseball teammates. That young girl seemed so full of life with so much ahead of her - it is just tragic. You and the UVA family will be in my thoughts and prayers.