Making a Difference: The Grace Lovegrove Legacy

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by Elizabeth Matthews Jones

Recently, a young athlete’s heart stopped beating while running with his high school cross country team. CPR was performed by his running mate as the coach pulled the Automated External Defibrillator from the school van. Without team training in CPR and the school district’s foresight to provide AED devices, this young man would have died.

It’s all too close to home for Lisa and Ricky Lovegrove.  Their daughter Grace was a star athlete, recently graduated from Patrick Henry High School and a freshman in her second semester at Christopher Newport University when she experienced a sudden cardiac arrest and died a short time later.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) are more prevalent in young athletes than is widely known.  On average, one young person experiences SCA or SCD every four days in the United States, and most are involved in some kind of school related sport.

It is this tragedy that led the parents, teachers and students at PH to organize the first Run With Grace 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run/Walk six years ago. This year’s race was held June 11th at Patrick Henry High School. Proceeds from the race provide much needed funds for the PH cross country team and a scholarship for a deserving senior in Grace’s memory.

Thanks to area businesses, the scholarship endowment has grown enough to be managed by the Foundation for Roanoke Valley. For the first couple of years, the money was kept in an account through Patrick Henry High School, withdrawn annually to pay for the scholarship, the cross country team’s expenses, event t-shirts and other promotional materials.  Then Fleet Feet, Carilion and ten other businesses stepped in.  The generosity of these partners now covers almost all of the physical and monetary needs, including the t-shirts each participant receives and the time-keepers that are positioned throughout the race.

“The stars aligned to make this race happen,” said Lisa.  “Without the help of our business partners, we would never have gotten this far.”  Before each race Lisa can be seen at Fleet Feet passing out race packets to participants. “They’ve made it so much easier, staying open late to make sure everyone gets registered.”

Although bittersweet, the race brings a lot of joy to the Lovegrove family.  Both Ricky and Lisa are PH graduates with the class of 1973. Grace graduated in 2004, and their son Spencer graduated recently with the class of 2011. Friends, family, teachers, coaches and students, as well as some of Grace’s teammates from Christopher Newport, gather every year for the event.  Having them here to honor Grace is an important part of the healing process for Lisa, Ricky and Spencer. However, Lisa has other goals in mind: making sure that everyone learns Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, every school team carries an Automated External Defibrillator and every family speaks openly about the importance of organ donation.

“CPR is not scary or hard to learn. Every person can do it and you can pick up an AED at Wal-Mart. It’s that simple. Fortunately, Carilion has provided AEDs at all the local high schools, but I want people to think about how Grace died.  I want them to educate themselves,” Lisa explained.

Grace’s legacy is not only based on her love of running and athletic ability; four people received her donated organs after she passed away.  It is something that Lisa thinks about daily. “Making that decision for your child is very different than making that decision for yourself. Grace had that little red heart on her driver’s license.  We had discussed the importance of being a donor. It wasn’t just what we wanted her to do; she knew it was the right thing.”

Ricky walks the race course, Spencer runs and Lisa is the number one cheerleader and an integral part of the organizational team.  None have any influence over either the timing or the scholarship recipient choice.  This year’s race winner and scholarship winner just happens to be one and the same: Patrick Woodford.  Not only is Patrick a good friend of Spencer’s from their Raleigh Court neighborhood; he is also the middle child of long time family friends Danny and Elizabeth Woodford.

The requirements to apply for the Grace Lovegrove scholarship are specific and the list is short: the graduating student must hold a 3.3 grade point average, be involved in a sport (not necessarily through school and not necessarily varsity) and be involved in community or church related service.  The student must also have a strong sense of perseverance.  Applications are available at Patrick Henry High School and are awarded by a panel that includes coaches, athletic trainers, guidance counselors and a representative from the Center for Humanities.

Donations are accepted year round at the Foundation for Roanoke Valley and can be designated specifically to the Grace Lovegrove Scholarship Fund. For more information about Grace and the annual 5K Fun Run/Walk, log onto http://www.runwithgrace.com/race.html. To make a designated donation call The Foundation for Roanoke Valley at (540) 985-0204.

Parent Heart Watch is an organization that provides education, information and support for families of victims of SCA and SCD. Becoming self aware, knowing your family history and having any health questions answered by your family physician can help identify potential health risks in children and young adults.

Learn more about SCA and SCD at http://www.parentheartwatch.org.