Remembering a Life Struck Down Too Soon

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the Life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

On August 5, 2009, a twenty-three year old school teacher was running on Forbidden Drive when the limb of a tulip poplar crashed down and ended her life. I found out about the tragedy early the next morning when my son and I cycled the same trail and were delayed by workers who had blocked the scene of the accident. One of the workers told us what had happened, and asked us to be careful not to disturb anything as he let us through.

Later that day I read that the young runner hit by the tree was Mary Katherine “Katie” Ladany, who had relocated to Philly from Montclair, N.J for a teaching job. Katie had just finished her first year at Dobbins Technical High School, and in that short time left an enduring mark on fellow teachers, school administrators and her students.

Katie's BenchMy only connection with Ms. Ladany was the coincidental intersection of my cycling route and the place her life ended hours earlier, yet the incident moved me enough to write Remembering a Life Struck Down Too Soon in her memory five years later. Since the article appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 13th, many people have written me, including Katie’s mother and father. Mr. Ladany brought to my attention that there is a park bench honoring his daughter near the scene of the accident. I had passed the spot many times and never noticed it. Now I stop each time I go by, sometimes I sit for a moment and meditate, and then am on my way for a more peaceful run.Katie's Quote

I’ve been moved by the correspondence I received since the article was published. Family, friends, and neighbors of Katie’s, as well as fellow-teachers, school administrators, professors, and people who never met her have sent me thoughtful messages. A fellow teacher of Katie’s told me about an annual scholarship in her name given to a promising mathematics student at Dobbins. One man wrote that he proposed to his wife almost forty years ago near the site of the accident. A dear friend of Katie’s grandmother described Katie as an extraordinary young woman and teacher. One reader wrote that he and his wife will sponsor a young person in Katie’s memory next year at Urban Promise in Camden, NJ. In his message, the gentleman wrote, “… hopefully the ripples she made will continue to be remembered.” A professor at Drexel University who began running on Forbidden Drive in 1976 wrote that it is a good thing to pause and say a prayer for Katie and her family. Some wrote simply because of their love of Forbidden Drive, a place they walk, run or cycle. Many people offered to contribute to a memorial fund.

I’ve been left to wonder how someone I never met could have made such impact on my life that I would call the Deputy Commissioner, Parks & Facilities about a memorial in Katie’s honor. The commissioner took the time to explain the process to have a memorial placed in a city park, which would include a formal proposal. I plan to follow through with the proposal, with no guarantee it will be approved. As with any initiative involving a municipality, there is the issue of funding, fairness and politics. No doubt such requests are not uncommon.

The only thing we can control in life are our own actions, so in Katie’s memory I will run Forbidden Drive on the fifth anniversary of the day her life was struck down too soon. Anyone who would like to join me to run, walk or just remember Katie, can meet at 6 p.m. next Tuesday, August 5th at Bells Mill Road and Forbidden Drive. I plan to run from Bells Mill to Katie’s bench (roughly 2.5 miles,) meditate a few moments, and return—a peaceful and hopeful run, fitting the young lady whose memory it will honor. Anyone who would rather meet at the bench (approximately halfway between between Valley Green and the stone bridge at the foot of Mt. Airy Avenue) should be there by 6:30. Spread the word, share the blog, or Tweet. Come celebrate a life that touched so many.


About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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18 Responses to Remembering a Life Struck Down Too Soon

  1. Kevin says:

    It was great running with you tonight. Katie will always be in my heart. I cannot run in those woods without thinking about her, and how that could have been any one of us. As a runner, that night was one of the hardest is my police career.


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Great running with you too, Kevin. And thank you for sharing your story with me. It has been incredibly moving to have met so many people who have shared stories about how Katie touched their lives. Hopefully some day we will share another run along the Drive. Be well!


  2. Ashlie says:

    Thank you! I consider Katie one of my best friends (college roommates and lived in Phila together after graduation) we will meet you at the bench as I’ll be in work clothes


  3. I will dedicate my club run tonight to Katie. Hoping for 8 miles.


  4. bison08 says:

    Jim, I want you know that Katie’s college classmates have found this and many of us are planning to run today wherever we are in her memory. Thank you for keeping her memory alive and for writing such a beautiful tribute!


  5. songtothesirens says:

    Where I live there are many cyclists, and many cyclists hit and killed. In each place where a cyclist has been killed, there is a “ghost” bike painted white to commemorate that cyclist’s life. Each and every one of them is revered by the cycling community because the rider was a friend, or the route is one you have ridden many times. I stop at many of them because the route is one I ride, or simply to remember the person represented by the ghost bike.


  6. runner500 says:

    That’s a lovely piece. I noticed one of those road-side ‘shrines’ to a crash victim a few years ago and had a short piece published on the BBC website about it, our only link was that we supported the same football (soccer) team, there is nothing there now but, despite not knowing him, I make a similar annual trip to what is now a very ordinary looking tree – it will be 11 years in the autumn. It is odd the connections we sometimes build up isn’t it?


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