Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
The memory of the little girl who last year suddenly died due to illness was alive and well-celebrated Saturday at Steve Weatherford’s Rush the Punter 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run at Fairbanks Park in Terre Haute.
Piper Goodwin, a 9-year-old Dixie Bee Elementary student, came down with pneumonia and died a few days before last year’s “Rush the Punter” event, which she planned to join with her sister, Lee.
So NFL punter Steve Weatherford ran in her honor and wore Piper’s bib — No. 454.
This year, a person closer to Piper — her best friend — had the similar honor.
Reign Geller, 8, wore a pink T-shirt that clearly indicated the purpose of her participation: “Running in memory of Piper.” She also wore Piper’s bib this year — No. 80. Her participation was at the direct request of the Goodwin family.
“And I said yes because I would do anything for her [Piper],” Reign said. She was thinking about her best friend while she ran, she added.
As Reign stood by the finish line with a medal around her neck, she recalled fond memories with Piper including sitting next to each other at school and playing together. Reign said she misses Piper.
“Thanks for running,” Piper’s dad, Jeff, told Reign after the run. He also gave her a hug. He said he is glad that Piper’s memory is being kept alive. Piper’s sister, Lee, also ran in memory of her sister.
Jeff held a photograph of Weatherford — punter for the 2012 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants — as he led last year’s group of kids on the run wearing Piper’s bib. The photograph was signed by Weatherford and was presented to the family during this year’s “Rush the Punter” opening ceremony.
More than 800 people participated in the two-hour event, which this year benefits a community initiative spearheaded by United Way called Healthier by 2020! The program focuses on combating obesity and chronic disease through exercise and healthful eating.
“Health and fitness is a big part of Steve’s life,” Troy Fears, United Way of the Wabash Valley executive director said, adding lightheartedly that Weatherford is a “health nut.”
Weatherford’s support means a lot to the program, he said.
“Rush the Punter,” now in its third year, included a kid’s one-mile fun run for grades K to 3; a one-mile fun run for grades 4 to 8 and a 5K dash/walk for participants of various age groups. About 250 kids participated in each run division and over 300 people participated in the 5K dash/walk.
Nine-year-old Drew Theisz was among the participants in the grades K to 3 one-mile fun run. He was in the company of family and friends.
After learning what the event is about, Drew decided to participate because “I thought it would be fun, and I’m with my friends.” He also wanted to meet Weatherford and to help out.
Weatherford gave the groups a pep talk before starting each race.
“You guys ready?” he asked the group of kids in grades 4 to 8 before this particular race began at 9:30 a.m.
“YEAH!” the kids shouted enthusiastically.
Weatherford — who also shot a video with the kids on his phone — joked that the kids looked sleepy and advised them to wake up.
“It’s not too early. Success doesn’t sleep,” he told them before starting off the event.
Weatherford told the Tribune-Star prior to the event that the “Rush the Punter” fundraiser was not only an effort to encourage people to be active but also to motivate kids “to be the best that they can be.” He aims to show that someone from the same community can accomplish great things. He urged the kids to set goals and dream big.
Weatherford also wanted to show them what it means to be successful “not just in sports but in the game of life.”
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell @tribstar.com.