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Even Virtually, Memory of Welles Crowther Lives On

Senior Isabella De Palo Garcia Perez has been volunteering for the annual Red Bandanna Run for years. 

“One of my favorite things is just talking to people about it,” De Palo Garcia Perez said. “A lot of people know about the event, know the race, the red bandanna, the idea behind it. … I know about this a lot and I can share a little bit more about it because I have the extra knowledge and experience with it.”

Although this year’s virtual format presented significant changes and new obstacles, as student coordinator for the race, she ensured that the cherished Boston College race would continue on. 

Welles Crowther, BC ’99, was working in the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During the attacks, after he led survivors down from the 78th floor of the South Tower to the first floor—saving as many as 18 lives—Crowther chose to go back up the stairs to save even more lives, losing his own in the process.  

The Red Bandanna Run is a 5k race held annually on BC’s campus. This year, it was changed to a virtual format, and occurred from Oct. 17 to Oct. 31. The race drew 1,844 participants, the largest turnout since its inception. Participants used RaceWire, an app for event races, and were encouraged to use the hashtag #BCredbandannarun when posting photos from their run to share with the community.

Kate Daly, associate director of the Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC), said that while they have offered the opportunity for racers to run virtually in the past few years, only a handful previously chose to participate in this way. Switching to a fully virtual format was not the first choice, Daly said, but it presented some silver linings.

“We’ve definitely seen more people participating from around the country,” Daly said, “which is really great that anyone who wants to honor Welles is able to do that from wherever they are.”

Daly also spoke to the positive shift she and her team made to using Instagram to publicize the race this year.

“Communications and our students in our office have really helped us promote [Instagram] so people can post their pictures and any reflections that they have on the run or about Welles …,” Daly said. “I don’t think you always get to hear from the runners about what it means to them to get to participate, and so I think that’s been really special.”

De Palo Garcia Perez said that many of the race’s important traditions continued on, including a welcome speech from Crowthers’ mother Alison Crowther. 

“[Having Mrs. Crowther speak] is always a poignant moment I would say, … especially in recent years after Mr. Crowther passed away,” she said, referring to Crowthers’ dad Jeff’s passing in February 2019. “That’s really one of the nice things that we’re able to keep.”

De Palo Garcia Perez has been involved with the race for the past few years, but the virtual format presented changes to her role. Last year, she coordinated drop-offs and pick-ups of race materials and volunteered heavily on the day of the race, while she spent most of her time this year answering emails from people who had questions leading up to the race. 

The one thing that stayed the same, she said, is that she’s still able to talk with students and community members about the work of the VSLC and Welles’ story. Perez said that she believes the Red Bandanna Run and Crowther’s story exemplify the formative aspects of education that BC promotes.

“I would say personally, it definitely means the love and support that BC is about and the caring aspect of education,” Perez said. “What you get out of college is to learn how to reflect about yourself and about other people, and so when you hear the story you have to be like, ‘Oh, would I have been able to do that?’”

Kyle Cuklanz, a member of the men’s club lacrosse team and MCAS ’23, said that he participates in the race with his teammates to commemorate Crowther, who he said is the true embodiment of BC’s mission to be men and women for others.  

This year, he said, the virtual format offered him the opportunity to experience the race in a new way.

“The transition to a socially distant, online format gave me the opportunity to reflect on Welles’ values, life, and mission as a Boston College alumnus and first responder without the hubbub and fanfare of other participants,” Cuklanz said. 

Alison Crowther said that she’s been pleased with how people have adapted to the virtual format, and the opportunity it’s given her to reach out to people who weren’t able to participate in prior years. 

“It allowed me to reach out to teachers and educators where I’ve spoken about Welles, … and they’ve formed teams with their students or friends,” she said. 

Alison also expressed how happy she was that Crowther’s friends, some of whom now have children, created teams with their families and ran the race in their communities. 

Even though the energy of the race may have been different this year, she still feels the same warmth and love from the BC community toward her son. 

“This connection to Boston College is just … so meaningful to me personally and to our family,” she said. “It’s enriching, it’s peace giving, it brings joy in this terrible situation, [and] it brings joy to my heart that Welles is still a part of Boston College and hopefully will be forever.”

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Archives

November 9, 2020

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