Death of avid runner Meg Menzies prompts 70,000 to join weekend tribute

There are moments that make you realize the death of one person can affect not just their circle of friends and family, but a larger community. That waves break not just at home, but ripple farther and wider than one could imagine. That humanity, given a chance, can mourn and honour a stranger and feel bonded to them over little more than a shared interest.

Running, it seems, has that power. More than 70,000 runners from around the world have gathered online through the week, and will soon take to streets and tracks across North America and beyond, in honour of Meg Menzies, a 34-year-old mother of three who was killed while doing what she loved.

Menzies was struck and killed while running near her home in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday morning. According to local reports, a suspect has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol in connection to the incident.

Menzies was described as a devoted Christian and avid runner. An obituary published in a local newspaper says she "ran home to Jesus on January 13, 2014." She left behind a husband, Scott, two sons, Gabriel and Whitfield, and a daughter, Skye.

Despite calls for privacy during their grief, the family has received an outpouring of support, much of it from strangers and other members of the running community. Seventy-thousand people have signed up online to run in honour of Menzies on Saturday, with distances varying from one mile to a full marathon. More than $23,000 has been raised for the family through t-shirt sales and other efforts.

"As an avid runner, member of the Richmond Road Runners Club, and Boston marathoner, (Menzies) was a member of the running family nationwide," event organizer Brooke Roney wrote on Facebook.

"In her honor, our hope is to raise awareness of drunk driving, texting and driving, and overall safety of runners and cyclists everywhere."

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Avid runners face dangers on a constant basis, everything from weather troubles to the threats that come with sharing roads with larger vehicles and distracted drivers.

Deaths like Menzies' happen more often than they should. On Thursday, a 45-year-old Jamesport, N.Y., man was struck and killed while on a morning jog. In Ontario, police continue to search for a man who disappeared while out for a run five days ago. While many questions in that case remain unanswered, members of the local running community have helped scour local running routes for his whereabouts.

So why has Meg Menzies' death received so much attention, and from such a vast audience?

The more than 70,000 people signed up to run in her honour this weekend include scores of Canadians and dozens more from Australia, England, Brazil, South Korea and beyond.

Mark Remy, a columnist for RunnersWorld.com, pondered the same question:

I've been thinking about that all week, and I'm no closer to an answer than I was Monday morning. Maybe it's because Meg was doing everything right, and still got killed. Maybe it's because she's left a husband and three beautiful young children behind. Or maybe not everything we want to know is "knowable." Maybe life really is just that capricious.

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There is something to that, this inability to control one's own fate, even while doing something that requires the control and discipline of running. Menzies was, according to reports, doing everything right. She should have been safe. And still, her life ended. It could have happened anywhere, to anyone.

Kenny Yum, an avid runner and Managing Editor of Huffington Post Canada, says in a blog post there are no borders in the running family.

"The fears we have for safety, the close calls we've all endured and the scorn we often face in the forms of a honked horn, yells or a steering wheel pushed in our direction puts this tragedy into focus. It could have been any of us," he wrote.

It is a moving thought. And the idea of runners supporting runners, regardless of place or time, has been tested in recent years.

After the Boston Marathon's finish line became the target of a bombing, emotional shows of support were not limited to New England. And in Toronto, when teen Emma van Nostrand collapsed and died during a marathon last year, support from her fellow runners was immediate and unwavering.

It is hard for someone like myself, who sits on the outside of this runner's circle looking in, to understand exactly what has prompted tens of thousands of strangers to unite around Menzies. But I understand loss, and I understand compassion. I understand that family can mean more than just those with whom you are lucky enough to share genes.

There is a saying: There but for the grace of God, go I. I can understand that, too.

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