This past week I had the opportunity to sit down with three members of the Minnehaha women's cross-country team (who had been on campus for a practice during the explosion) to learn how things in their lives, as well as the lives of the entire Minnehaha community, have changed since the tragic event.
It was a normal August morning for the Minnehaha women's cross-country team. After finishing a 9 AM practice at school, the team walked from the building towards the car. Senior, and team captain, Hannah Pope recalled that "it was a Wednesday, and we always take the team out to get food after Wednesday practices."
Slipping into the driver's seat and getting ready to pull out of the parking lot, not more than 200 feet away from the building, neither Hannah nor her teammates could have anticipated what happened next. Seventh graders Halle Whitman and Avary Lessard recounted being struck with fear and confusion. "It was so unexpected and shocking," Avary told me. "Everybody was having fun and then all of the sudden the windows shattered and the building exploded."
The safety of her teammates being the first thing on her mind, Hannah and the senior members of the team immediately focused on getting all of the younger runners to safety. "For a minute, we couldn't fully process if it was real, but we wanted to get the younger girls out of there in case there was another explosion," she told me.
Left to right: Avary Lessard (7th grade), Hannah Pope (12th grade), Halle Whitman (7th grade)
All of the running team was safe and unharmed, but the explosion continues to have lasting impacts on the team. High school students at Minnehaha have been temporarily relocated to Brown College for classes, and as a result the cross-country team has been forced to relocate many of their practices. Avary reflected that the team, "used to go to the North campus all of the time, and now it is strange to think that it is just gone."
Hannah emphasized the shift in the team's attitude and outlook, stating, "We, as a team, are closer now than ever and we focus on prioritizing the right things and valuing our time with each other." An increased sense of togetherness is felt throughout the team and as Halle told me, "we [the team] all connected after having gone through something like this together-having people who understood what I had gone through around me was really helpful."
On a more personal level, the explosion has changed the way that Avary, Halle, and Hannah live their lives. Avary reflected, "It gives you an idea of how you really never know when something like this can happen, and it is important to value what you have."
Halle shifted from "...worrying about small insignificant things to focusing on the bigger and more important parts of life," such as her teammates and the time she spends with them.
Hannah sees increased value in the relationships she has formed and now focuses on "...valuing our time with each other and cherishing what we have because it can change at any moment."
The Minnehaha team is running with a new set of goals this season, and as Hannah told me, "We are focused a lot more on unity over results-being together has helped everybody to pick each other back up."
In the short 30 minutes or so that I had the opportunity to talk to Hannah, Avary, and Halle I could see the strength and resilience each of them and their team have shown. Although I only had the opportunity to speak with three runners I could see that the team is a group of incredibly talented and courageous young women. I have never spoken with 7th graders who were as well spoken and mature as Avary and Halle, and I got the opportunity to see them race this past Thursday at the Private School Invite where they both impressively placed in the top five of their race (four of the top five were Minnehaha runners). Hannah's positive attitude and compassion for her teammates was immediately evident, and it is a rare gift to have such strong leadership on a team.
The events that occurred at Minnehaha Academy on August 2nd are tragic and will have a lasting impact on the community, however if that community consists of courageous, compassionate, and strong people like Halle, Avary, and Hannah there is no doubt in my mind that Minnehaha Academy will emerge stronger than ever in the time to come.
Stories worth telling?
Questions, comments, concerns?