June 24, 2018
School & Youth
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  • The Challenge 5K run on May 6 at Northeast High School encouraged students countywide to raise awareness about drugs and addiction.
    Photo by Stephanie Mennell Photography
    The Challenge 5K run on May 6 at Northeast High School encouraged students countywide to raise awareness about drugs and addiction.

Runners Fulfill Family’s Promise With Memorial 5K Race At Northeast

Judy Tacyn
Judy Tacyn's picture
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May 18, 2017

When Ryan Williams was running, he was free. The gifted athlete floated around tracks and across cross-country terrain as if he were dancing on air. The 2003 Northeast High School graduate earned accolades throughout his high school career and in college.

“He was such a beautiful runner,” said his mother, Denise Williams, “There was a joy about him, especially when he was running; he just had this amazing God-given ability.”

When Ryan entered his early 20s, he — like so many young people — struggled with the responsibilities that came with adulthood. He tried to outrun his struggles, adjusting to the often emotional turmoils of marriage, parenthood and financial responsibilities. He turned to self-medicating with physician-prescribed medications and eventually stronger opiates. Just days before a scheduled inpatient rehabilitation stay, Ryan’s addition, the competitor that tormented him for many years, overtook him. His final race, the race for his own life, ended on January 29, 2015, when Ryan was just 29 years old. The opioid epidemic claimed victory over another challenger.

“At Ryan’s funeral, our family made a vow to Ryan and to each other that his death would not be in vain and one day we’d run for him,” said Denise. “We promised Ryan we’d hold a memorial race in his honor.”

On Saturday, May 6, the Williams family fulfilled their promise on the very grounds that brought their son so much joy. With the help of Northeast High School’s Human Performance Signature Program and Students Against Destructive Decisions, the Ryan Williams Memorial 5K Run for Recovery took place at Northeast High School and Tick Neck Park to raise opioid addiction awareness, attempt to mitigate the stigma of addiction and raise funds for the Lance Ryan Eager Fund.

Race advocates Denise Williams and Ann Youngblood met in bereavement counseling and learned they had much in common. Denise and Youngblood are both Pasadena mothers who lost their sons to opioids. Youngblood’s son, Lance Eager, who also attended Northeast High School, died of an overdose just six months before Ryan at the age of 20.

Through their friendship, numerous connections were made. Youngblood became aware of the Human Performance Signature Program run by Brandi Dorsey, Signature Program facilitator. The idea for the 5K was embraced by the NHS Integrated Community Stakeholders Team (ICST) as part of the school’s “Healthy Mind, Body and Soul” theme.

“We held several in-school events throughout the year at Northeast,” Dorsey said. “Kids have to know the strength of drugs and addiction. They need to know that experimenting one time can and will lead to addiction and possible overdose.”

Since the opioid epidemic is not isolated to Pasadena, Dorsey and other school leaders issued “the challenge” to other Anne Arundel County high school track and cross-country teams to see which school could bring the most runners to the 5K.

Ryan’s high school track coach, Josh Alcombright, was a friend and mentor to his former star and the Williams family. He is also the current head coach for the Severna Park High School Falcons track and cross-country teams. Eyeing an opportunity to build community, if not to stir the pot of friendly rivalry, Dorsey made sure Alcombright was high on The Challenge invite list. And “Coach A,” as he’s called among students and parents, didn’t disappoint.

“The program at Severna Park is just an extension of my family. I started my coaching career at Northeast and it will always be a part of who I am as a coach, and I want the program at Severna Park to be a part of things bigger than just running and competing week in and week out,” Alcombright said. “I want my athletes to get the experience and satisfaction that comes with serving as leaders and role models within the community.”

Christina Morganti of Severna Park was the first female to cross the finish line. “Coach A contacted the parents of all of his athletes and invited us to support this race,” she said.

As a medical doctor and mother of teens (including former Severna Park Falcon running standout and current collegiate runner Kasey Gelfand), Morganti is familiar with the opioid epidemic in our county, our state and our country.

“We are all part of this beautiful family of track athletes and runners,” Morganti added. “It was important for us to be there.”

Dorsey said that at race time, there were nearly 400 registered runners with many registering onsite.

“We were thrilled that we had runners from Southern, Chesapeake, Severna Park, Northeast and St. Mary’s high schools,” Dorsey said. Additionally, students from George Fox Middle School and many of the Northeast cluster elementary schools donned a numbered bib.

By race time, Northeast was declared victorious in The Challenge, boasting just six more runners than Severna Park. However, three Severna Park Falcon runners crossed the finish line first, and they did so hand-in-hand.

Christian Isham, fellow Severna Park High School junior Jonah Lane and sophomore Nathan Van de Meulebroecke decided early on that if they were all close to winning the race, they would cross the line together.

Isham added that while most of the Severna Park High teams participated, they did so not just because their coach asked them to. “It was the right thing to do,” he said. “Drug addiction is a very important and serious cause. We know prevention is the only way to battle addiction, and that begins with [teens].”

Denise said she and Youngblood do not yet know the exact amount of money raised during the event, but at last count, the total was approximately $5,000. The Lance Ryan Eager Fund helps individuals with co-pays, after-care and sober living expenses, rent, family counseling and toiletries.

“I am overwhelmed and humbled by our community’s participation and support of 5K memorial run and the Lance Ryan Eager Fund,” Denise said. “I hate the addiction, but I will never ever stop loving Ryan.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit “The Lance Ryan Eager Fund” on Facebook.


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