By Teri Saylor
When Scott Menzies laced up his running shoes on a beautiful winter morning last January, he had no way of knowing he was about to set out on his last run with Meg. Meg Menzies, a beloved runner in Richmond, Va., was struck and killed by an accused drunk driver on January 13, 2014. Then, out of an ocean of sorrow and grief, something amazing happened.
It is the middle of March, and I am sitting in a line of cars and trucks waiting on a long CSX train to cross Patrick Henry Road in Hanover County, Va., a suburban district that snuggles up next to Richmond. It looks and feels like a rural hamlet, its scenic landscape decorated with sprawling horse farms and sites commemorating the area’s rich Revolutionary War history.
In reality, Hanover County is home to over 100,000 residents, and Patrick Henry Road is a bustling thoroughfare connecting these folks to their jobs, shopping centers, and businesses. The road links Highway 301 to Interstate-95 so tightly you can almost hear the sounds of traffic speeding north and south.
On this day, the sky is perfectly blue, and the temperature is so warm I am tempted to put the top down on my car. It is nearly 5:00 p.m. and the late afternoon sun casts long shadows across the fields that line the roadway.
Even though the posted speed limit is 45 mph, and I am driving at least five miles-an-hour over that, vehicles hover close to my back bumper and zoom around me whenever they get a break in oncoming traffic.
The death of a local runner that has become an international phenomenon has brought me here.
Meg and Scott Menzies likely were not thinking about traffic or trains on a crisp winter morning, January 13, as they set out to run along this beautiful section of Patrick Henry Road. Meg was training for the Boston Marathon. Scott, wearing a safety vest, was running just ahead of her. It was about 8:15 a.m.
The sun was up and filtering through the trees that line the rural two-lane road. It must have been a perfect morning for a mid-winter run.
As they ran along the narrow shoulder of the road facing traffic, a 2008 Toyota Sequoia came out of nowhere. Scott jumped out of the way and shouted for Meg. She tried to get out of the way too, but the vehicle ran off the road right into her path.
She didn’t stand a chance.
In a flash, Meg Cross Menzies was gone, leaving a husband and three small children.
She was 34 years old.
Patrick Henry Road snakes and curves across Hanover County. The shoulders on each side of the road extend a foot or two before they drop into twin ditches about 24 inches deep.
Little country lanes sprout off the main road, resembling small branches. They have quaint country names like Autumn Sun Lane and Walnut Shade Lane.
After keeping the line-up waiting for nearly 10 minutes, the last box car finally disappears around a curve; the safety gates go back up, and we start moving again.
A couple of miles past the railroad track and around a bend, I can see a signpost for Hickory Hill Road, rising up in the distance, like a beacon.
It doesn’t look like a normal streetsign though.
As I get closer, I see dozens of colorful running shoes hanging on it like Christmas tree ornaments. Here and there people have inserted heartfelt notes and whimsical trinkets. About 50 yards away, someone has constructed a slender white cross with a pair of running shoes tied to it. A few small hyacinths are starting to poke their purple heads out of the earth, the first flowers to emerge in a small memorial garden planted at the foot of the cross.
Sabrina Civils was on her way to her job as a financial administrator at a Richmond High School when she heard the news that a “Hanover jogger” had been struck and killed that morning.
“I remember thinking how terrible that was,” she said over dinner in a popular Richmond restaurant.
Sabrina had known Meg since the 8th grade and credits her friend for introducing her to the track team in high school. But it never entered her mind that Meg was the jogger who had died that day.
“My sister called me and said she had bad news,” Sabrina recalls. “I just lost it.”
Over 1,200 people packed Meg’s funeral service.
Beloved in the Community
“Meg was always a runner. She was beautiful inside and out, and in every way that matters,” Sabrina said. “She was a Christian and did not have a mean bone in her body. She was small and petite, and a fun person, a true person. You could trust that girl with anything.”
Michael J. Carlson, a local doctor has been charged with driving while impaired and involuntary manslaughter. According to news reports, his blood alcohol level was recorded at .11. Prescription drugs and an unopened bottle of beer were found in his car. He reported he was on his way to work. Police are also investigating to find out if he was texting behind the wheel of his car too.
Other stories of tragic deaths involving drunk drivers end here, but Meg’s death has given birth to a miraculous phenomenon.
After Meg was killed, friends set up a Meg’s Miles Supporters tribute page on Facebook and planned a memorial run for January 18, asking runners everywhere to log miles in Meg’s memory.
The movement went viral, with runners from all over the world posting their miles. Nearly 100,000 people ran for Meg that weekend.
Today, just three months after Meg’s death, nearly 16,000 people from virtually every state in the nation and all around the world are still running miles for Meg.
Amy Garza lives in Tempe, Arizona. She had never met Meg Menzies, but she is planning to run the Boston Marathon for her on April 21. Amy has been running for Meg ever since she learned of the runner’s death on Facebook.
As of April 2, she had passed the 310-mile mark.
“People join the page every day,” Brooke Roney, the site administrator said in a phone interview. “It has become a sort of running support group.”
Indeed, people who have never even run to their mailboxes have started training for races, and logging miles for Meg. They post messages about their hopes and dreams. They post about their own sorrows and heartbreaks, and they post about running to honor Meg.
“Meg has inspired a lot of people to get moving, to exercise and get healthy,” Brooke said. “She turned many people on to running in her community.”
Now her influence is worldwide.
“The fact that Meg is a mother of three and that she died on an early morning run really hit me hard,” Amy Garza wrote in an email to me. “It could have been me in her place, or any one of the wonderful running mothers I know who get up early in the morning while their children are still sleeping to get their workout in order to still be home in time to get them up and ready and off to school.”
Amy has donated her favorite pair of Vibrams to “Soles of Love,” a special Boston Marathon memorial sculpture constructed out of donated running shoes as a tribute to Meg. It will greet runners at the marathon’s 1-mile mark.
Amy wrote a note to the Soles of Love organizer, and tucked it into the package with her Vibrams:
“Last night, I took a Sharpie to my favorite pink Vibrams Fivefingers, the pair that I (wore in) my first marathon in January 2012. This morning, I put these shoes on for the last time before shipping them off to you. I am starting to taper for Boston, so my 7-mile run could’ve been a little slower today, but it wasn’t. I felt like I had wings. It was all Meg.”
Well-known runner and journalist Bart Yasso has signed on as a Meg’s Miles supporter. So has Olympian Deena Kastor. Natalie Morales, an anchor with NBC’s Today Show has tweeted about Meg’s Miles and donated a pair of autographed shoes to Meg’s Boston Marathon memorial.
I called Bart and asked him why this movement has grown so big.
He attributes it partly to the power of social media. He also said giving people a forum to respond to a tragedy is part of the healing process, and he predicted something good will come from the tragedy.
“The Richmond running community is really strong,” he said. “I run several times a year in Richmond, and I can see the power of the Richmond Running Club.”
Sabrina, and Brooke, along with Tiffany Eisentrout, Amanda Parrish, Whitney McIntosh, Erin Schools, Terri LeGars, and Dr. Jessica Lynn Pereplyotchik, plan to set up a foundation to advocate for healthy lifestyles and safety, with a focus on Meg’s Christian values. They also plan to use the foundation to help kids who have lost parents in accidents involving drunk driving and texting.
The Meg’s Miles organizers already have raised over $33,000 through tee shirt sales and donations.
In Meg, Amy Garza has found a kindred spirit.
“We have quite a few parallels in our lives, even though we live across the United States from each other. I am drawn to the page and love reading the posts by people who have also been touched by Meg’s story,” she wrote. “I love that there are so many people in the world who seem to turn tragedy into something positive. I’m not sure I would have the strength to do it, but I hope I would. It makes the world seem a little smaller somehow and brings us all together for a common purpose.”
Sabrina is not surprised that Meg’s spirit is so powerful. She was a strong force for running and healthy living in the Richmond area. Now she’s impacting thousands of people around the globe.
“This has become a chain reaction all over the world,” she said. “Meg is smiling down on us. She has made such an impact on so many lives.”
She is working her magic from Heaven now.
Teri Saylor lives, runs and writes in Raleigh, N.C. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the Meg’s Miles Supporters group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/megsmiles/
Note: Photos by Teri Saylor, Amy Garza and Kel Kelly, creator of the Boston Marathon Meg’s Miles Soles of Love Structure. The photo of Meg comes from the Meg’s Miles Supporters Facebook page.