When Tewksbury High senior Meghan McCarthy tragically passed away after a long battle with a brain tumor last January, Rob Wallace experienced all the same emotions that the rest of his classmates endured.
"I knew her for a long time," said Wallace, who is president of this year's senior class at TMHS. "She grew up in the same neighborhood as I did and we used to take the same bus to school. I saw her everywhere. So it was real sad. It was awful."
After attending McCarthy's tear-filled wake and her funeral, and the emotional basketball game tribute to her, Wallace and some friends were inspired to do something to help preserve the memory of McCarthy and her courageous battle against cancer.
So Wallace got together in the school library one day last winter with classmates Jerry Etienne, Lauren Melski and Kyla Higgins, and started talking about what they could do to make sure Meghan was not soon forgotten.
"Even though it was a real sad situation, we decided we wanted to put an event together that was more of a celebration of her life," Wallace said. "We were just brainstorming and we came up with the idea of a road race."
Six weeks later, the first Meghan McCarthy Memorial 5K Road Race was run. The event, organized solely by Tewksbury High School students, drew nearly 600 participants. On Sunday morning, the second annual Meghan McCarthy Road Race will take place starting at 10 a.m. at the high school.
"We were amazed that we got so many people the first time," Wallace said. "We really threw it together last minute and we weren't sure how it was going to work out. But I think people really liked the idea of a road race. It kind of helped transition from mourning to celebration."
This year, with Higgins graduated and attending UMass-Lowell, Wallace, Melski and Etienne have expanded their planning committee and put a lot more prep work into the race. They hope to have an even greater turnout, and establish the race as an annual Tewksbury event.
Last year, the event raised over $10,00, all of which was donated to the Flying Henry's, a bicycling team that rides in the Pan-Mass Challenge in Meghan's Honor each year to raise money for cancer research.
Proceeds from this year's race will be split between the Flying Henry's and the newly-formed Meghan McCarthy Brain Tumor Fund.
"We've put a lot of work into planning this year's race," said TMHS senior Jen Bowers, who worked on the planning committee with Wallace, Melski, Etienne and others, including Sarah Hogan, Lindsey McQuesten, Grace Carew, Liz McVey, Eric Sabbag, Alex Bouthot, Danny MacNeil, Allyn Hood, Kelli Sugrue, Nicole Chaet and Kim Tecce, many of whom are underclassmen.
"Our biggest concern was to make sure there were people involved who could carry on the tradition once we graduate," said Wallace.
Bowers, who played basketball with McCarthy on the youth and high school levels, agreed. Many of her high school memories will involve McCarthy and her quest to raise money for cancer research, known around Tewksbury High School as "Meghan's Miracle."
"Meghan was a great person and she was a role model for everyone," Bowers said. "She was just so strong through it all. People hear her story and they're really inspired. It's not something this town should soon forget."
Both walkers and runners are invited to participate. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. in the high school parking lot.
The race course will go out of the high school and left on Pleasant Street, and continue taking lefts on Whipple Road, Pine Street, Chandler Street, Helvetia Street and back to the high school on Pleasant.
Awards will be given out in a variety of age groups in the competitive portion of the race.
Wallace, Bowers and the committee hope the event will become a fixture on the annual social calendar of present and former Tewksbury High students, as well as runners from all over.
"Our goal is to never forget," Bowers said. "And the new saying is 'Expand The Miracle.' We don't want anyone to forget about Meghan. She's part of this town."