No one is left behind.
It’s the sentiment shared by every Mount Juliet runner who woke up before dawn on Sept. 9 to “finish Eliza’s run.”
Eliza Fletcher, a teacher, a mother and wife and a Belmont alumnus, was abducted on Sept. 2 while out on an early morning run near the University of Memphis.
She was found dead three days later after a weekend-long search.
Fletcher’s fellow Tennesseans mourned her and honored her the only way they knew how: by running.
Over 100 runners and walkers, none of whom knew Fletcher personally, gathered at Charlie Daniels Park in Mount Juliet to “finish Eliza’s run” from 4:20a.m. to 6a.m., the time she planned to complete her 8-mile workout.
To the community, the event was as much for them as it was for Fletcher’s remembrance.
“I’m a runner and a parent from the Memphis area, so it hits really close to home. The running community is fairly small, but tight knit and really supportive. The least I can do is be here this morning,” said Chris Daniel, a Mount Juliet local.
For others, it was just about being together.
“It symbolizes women getting together and supporting each other,” said Harley Rogers, another local runner.
“It touched my heart to come out here at four in the morning to all the lights of the cars and seeing the Mount Juliet community. You put out the call and everyone shows up,” Rogers said.
Jill Pappas, an event manager for Belmont, helped plan the run in two days. Through a mutual friend, Pappas found the Facebook group for the run. Her instincts as an event manager kicked in. After sharing it with local running groups and the police department, things took full form.
“It all started with just five of us who wanted to get together in her memory … and it turned into under 500 people interested in coming out at 4:20 a.m. to finish her run,” Pappas said.
“We go out and do what we can to remember people like Eliza who go out and get abducted or attacked. It’s hard being a woman and constantly having to look over your shoulder and worry, ‘Am I going to make it home?’ ‘Do I need to carry protection?’” Pappas said.
A retired teacher and runner from Mount Juliet, Linda Gay was glad to see the support, but hate’s that women can’t feel safe running alone.
“It’s not fair. I should be able to go out and run and not be afraid. What happened to her could happen to any of us. It shouldn’t be that way,” Gay said.
But above all, the morning was about having Fletcher’s back and coming together as a community of runners.
“We’re all here for her, even from a distance away,” said Amy Quillin. “We don’t personally know her, but she is one of us.”
PHOTO: Runners meet up early to finish the run of Eliza Fletcher, who was abducted on Sept. 2. Isaac Wetzel/Belmont Vision
This article was written by Isaac Wetzel.