TERRE HAUTE —
Steve Weatherford’s “Rush the Punter” fundraiser at Fairbanks Park on Saturday was dedicated to a little girl who lost her life unexpectedly to pneumonia.
Piper Goodwin, the 9-year-old Dixie Bee Elementary student who died Wednesday after a short illness, had planned to participate in the Kids One-Mile Fun run with her sister, Lee.
In Piper’s honor, Weatherford — punter for the 2012 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants — wore Piper’s bib, No. 454.
He also met with the family, including parents Jeff and Dana, prior to the run.
“This past week was a very sad one for the Vigo County School Corp.” said Superintendent Dan Tanoos during an opening ceremony. “It’s always a tragedy when we lose a student, especially a young child.”
The family joined Tanoos on stage, and the large crowd observed a moment of silence in the little girl’s honor. “God rest her soul,” Tanoos said.
Piper’s sister, Lee, a Dixie Bee third-grade student, ran the race in memory of her sister. When she completed the race, Weatherford placed a medal around her neck.
“They practiced hard to get here,” Dana Goodwin said.
Jeff Goodwin said the family is appreciative of the community’s support in this difficult time.
In an interview after he met with the family, Weatherford said he told them he was very sorry for their loss and thanked them for attending the event.
He told them it’s a difficult time right now, “but you have a great community here that cares about all of its own.”
Weatherford said “it’s very cool that we’ll be able to dedicate the run to [Piper] today.”
More than 850 people participated in the fundraiser for United Way’s early childhood education Success by Six program. Last year, 550 participated. “We’re ecstatic with all the people who have shown support, not only for Steve, but for United Way as well,” said Troy Fears, United Way executive director.
The event raised about $8,000 last year and officials hoped to equal or exceed that this year.
The event included a kids one-mile fun run for grades K-3; a one-mile fun run for grades 4-8 and a 5K dash/walk. In each event, Weatherford led the way.
“I’m so excited to be back home,” Weatherford said during the opening ceremony. “There are so many emotions I get when I come back.”
He said he sees the children’s faces, and he thinks of his own youth — when, he too, used to run around Fairbanks Park.
“It’s an amazing feeling to come back here and see all these little kids with my name on their T-shirts” running for United Way, he said. “It’s an amazing cause, and this is an amazing community. I’m so proud to be from Terre Haute.”
He said he wanted everyone to have a good time and to cheer everyone on. “That’s why we’re here, because we’re a close-knit community and everybody cares about everybody,” he said.
He told the children as they prepared to run, “Have fun, run hard and dream big.”
As he was about to start the first run, he said to the young runners, “Are any of you going to catch me? I’m pretty fast.” He started running, and the children — some accompanied by adults — eagerly followed.
Once he finished, he took the megaphone and cheered on those still finishing and gave many of them high-fives.
“Let’s go, guys. You’re almost here,” he said, encouraging them on. “Let’s go, crowd. I can’t hear you.”
He told one student, “Nice job, buddy.”
Among those attending the event were Joe Corrigan and his two children Patrick, 9, and Madison, 6, both students at Lost Creek Elementary. Patrick said he’s both a football and Weatherford fan.
“It’s a great event for the community” raising money for a good cause,” Corrigan said. “It’s nice that he comes back and supports Terre Haute.”
Prior to the run, 11-year-old Jeffery Gregory had his mom take his picture with Weatherford.
“I’m a big fan,” said the Lost Creek fifth-grader. Running with Weatherford in Rush the Punter “is pretty cool.” He plays football and hopes to follow in Weatherford’s footsteps.
Jeffery’s mom, Jamie, said “I think it’s wonderful that he [Weatherford] comes back to his hometown to do this.” She brought along her 3-year-old daughter, Lilly.
Larry and Colleen Morris came to the event with their two children, Keegan and Abbie, both Dixie Bee students.
Keegan got to meet Weatherford Friday at Pacesetter Sports, where the 10-year-old received some new athletic shoes compliments of the Giants’ punter.
“We’re pretty excited and proud of him,” Colleen Morris said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or email@example.com.