Running For Catherine: Honoring a Classmate One Mile at a Time
When 22-year-old Catherine Barclift was killed while training for the Feb. 24 Five Points of Life Half Marathon, her classmates at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law were left both stunned and filled with grief.
Now a group of more than 50 of her classmates and friends have signed on to run in her honor in that same race that’s sponsored by LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, with an effort they’ve dubbed “I’m Running for Catherine.” Alex Perrin and Justin Leak, who are both first-year law students and were classmates of Barclift, have helped organize the effort. Leak says he didn’t know Catherine—Cat to her friends—personally, but he could see the impact her death on Nov. 6 had on his fellow students. Barclift was struck and critically injured as she was running home to her apartment and died the following day.
“I was out for a run and I thought we needed to do something to honor her,” Leak says. “I thought ‘She was preparing for a half-marathon, why don’t we run in her honor’.”
He bounced the idea off of Perrin, Barclift’s neighbor, friend and classmate. The two had met under unusual circumstances just before classes began in the fall. Barclift came knocking on Perrin’s front door and brought her out of the tub, dripping wet, and wrapped in a towel to answer it. It turned out the tub was leaking badly through the floor directly into Barclift’s apartment below. The neighbors soon learned they had a lot in common.
“Catherine and I were real close,” Perrin says. “We were pretty much together every day.”
And by the time of her death, Barclift’s circle of close friends had grown during her short time in Gainesville.
“She was very gregarious, very funny, very outgoing, very warm, she knew everybody on campus in just weeks,” Perrin says.
That social side of Catherine Barclift came as no surprise to her parents, Robert and Stephanie Barclift of Fort Myers. Stephanie Barclift explains that when Catherine was growing up, she switched schools several times, so she knew what it was like to be the new person, the one on the outside of the cliques.
“She would make the extra effort to get to know people,” she says.
And at the UF law college Catherine Barclift found her niche.
“She was impressed with the people she was with,” says Stephanie Barclift. “It’s truly a wonderful community of students and professors.”
And she says those who did get to know her daughter were often surprised. Yes, she was attractive, liked nice clothes, but she had a real sense of adventure. She’d paddled a sea kayak off of Alaska and hiked on a glacier. She also had an inner toughness, demonstrated during the summer of 2005 when she was studying in London and terrorists blew up a double-decker bus just yards from her apartment. Many other American students came home after that incident, but Catherine chose to stay.
Stephanie Barclift says Catherine could also surprise her professors on occasion. While she’d accrued academic honors as an undergrad at Florida State and tallied prestigious internships on her résumé, when asked to write about what she was most proud of in her life, she picked a topic much closer to home, “she wrote about her younger sister Caroline.”
Early in the semester Perrin and Barclift and a few other female law students decided to start running for exercise and for stress release. They posted a page on the Facebook social networking Web site called “Look Pretty Run Nasty,” and the goal of running the Five Points of Life half-marathon took shape.
Robert Barclift says as a youngster Catherine had run 5K races with him, but he wouldn’t have described her as a runner.
“She was more of a lyrical soprano than a jock,” he says. “Her focus was more on music, she did sports more for fun.”
Perrin says during the semester Barclift began to take her training seriously.
“She was running every day, she was so excited, she’d gotten up to six miles,” Perrin says.
The fact that his daughter would get serious about the running, did not surprise Robert Barclift. He says it’s a family trait.
“When we decide to do something, we laser in on it,” he says.
The accident occurred as she was running home from a workout at the gym, and she stepped into the path of a SUV while crossing SW 34th St. She was only about a block from home. She was taken to Shands at the University of Florida, but her injuries were too severe for survival. Her last gift was herself, Catherine Barclift was an organ donor – her heart, her two kidneys, her liver and one lung, went to five different patients who’d pinned their hopes for life on such a gift. Robert Barclift says he remembers going with Catherine in June of 2001 when she got her driver’s license, where the question is posed, “Would you wish to be an organ donor?” and he asked her how she felt about that.
“Without hesitation, she said she’d like to do that,” he recalls.
And before she died there was another reminder.
“My wife pulled out her driver’s license and there it was,” he says.
And the tragic irony isn’t lost on her father—the daughter who became an organ donor was training for a race, the Five Points of Life, which has a goal to promote five life-saving steps people can take, and one of those steps is signing up as an organ donor and sharing your thoughts and wishes with those you know and love.
“We felt good about it that she’d made that decision and that she had helped others,” Robert Barclift says.
On campus, the sign-ups continue. “I’m Running for Catherine” now has its own Facebook page that her law school classmates, old friends from FSU, sorority sisters from Gamma Phi Beta and more have visited. Some of the students who know they can’t run a half-marathon are signing up for the 5Points 5K on Feb. 23. Others have volunteered to help on race day, while others have contributed money to support the Five Points of Life program.
Alex Perrin says part of the challenge for her was just running outside again in Gainesville, but she’s been able to do that. Running for her friend, and running for a cause have helped. Classmate and fellow organizer Justin Leak agrees and says the effort has added focus to his training.
“It’s given me an incentive. When you are doing it in somebody’s honor it carries a lot more weight,” he says.
And it’s an effort and thought that’s touched her family as well.
“We feel honored both for us and for Catherine,” says Robert Barclift.
For more information, contact Alex Perrin at email@example.com or go to the website to donate at http://www.active.com/donate/fivepointsoflife/catherinebarclift.