“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.
My 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.
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.