Young runner’s memory inspires track meet, college scholarships


Six summers ago, 18-year-old Amanda Post was in the starting blocks, poised to leap into her new life as a scholarship track athlete at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. But just weeks before her first freshman quarter, the Encinitas teen died in a tragic rollover crash near Bishop.

The fiery multivehicle accident was so horrific it made the national news. As Amanda’s devastated parents, Greg and Missy Post, drove with their other daughter, Hilary, to Bishop in the pre-dawn hours the next morning, they made a family pact.

“We realized we could either let this destroy us or we could live to honor her,” said Missy Post, 63. “We wanted her to be remembered not for how she died, but for how she lived.”

Today, the family-run Amanda Post Foundation is helping make college dreams come true for girls just like Amanda — Christian women scholar-athletes from San Diego County who are attending universities on track and cross-country scholarships. Over the past five years, more than 40 four-year scholarships and one-year grants (totaling $12,000 to $15,000 a year) have been awarded in Amanda’s name.

And on June 4, Encinitas grade-schoolers will compete in the second annual Amanda Post Track Meet.

Founded by Greg Post and family friend John Cotter, who was Amanda’s third grade teacher, the event at La Costa Canyon High School allows boys and girls in grades 3 through 6 to participate in a high school-style track tournament.

“Running was in her soul,” said Missy, who runs a tutoring business. “Amanda told me that she could never not run. It was one of the things she loved most.”

Amanda was a natural athlete who excelled in soccer, volleyball, field hockey and the martial art of tang soo do. She didn’t discover running until her sophomore year at Cathedral Catholic High School, but she clicked with the sport immediately. In her senior year, she earned gold medals at the county CIF championship in the 800-meter run, her signature event, and in the 4 x 400 relay.

On Aug. 9, 2010, Amanda and a group of fellow runners were returning home on U.S. Route 395 after a weekend of workouts at a high-altitude Olympic training camp on Mammoth Mountain. The driver, Amanda’s close friend Natalie Nield, was speeding and lost control of her SUV, which veered into oncoming traffic, flipped upside down and burst into flames. It was struck head-on by a van coming up the mountain with 14 cross-country runners from California Baptist University. It, too, exploded in flames.

Amanda and Natalie died at the scene, along with the van’s driver, Wendy Rice, 35, of San Diego. The girls’ trainer, 39-year-old John Adams, later succumbed to burn injuries and many of the two vehicles’ other passengers suffered severe burns and permanent disabilities.

Greg Post, an attorney, describes the pain of losing the youngest of his four children as feeling the weight of a heavy stone on his chest.

“At first the stone has sharp, jagged edges and even though the water rolls over it day after day, year after year, the edges get softer but the weight of it never goes away,” he said.

The only solace the Posts found in their loss is that they’d already said their goodbyes to Amanda after she “died” driving home from a track practice just three months before. Amanda was one of Cathedral Catholic’s graduating seniors invited to perform in the drunken-driving awareness program “Every 15 Minutes.” As part of the weeklong campus re-enactment of a fatal crash involving students and its aftermath, Amanda and her family wrote goodbye letters to each other. Missy said the four-day experience was emotionally punishing, but it brought everyone closer together, including the older children Brian, now 36, Kevin, 34, and Hilary, 32.

“We were blessed to have the opportunity to to express how we felt about each other before she died,” Missy said. “She and I had very deep discussions and she said she wasn’t afraid to die. She also said, ‘This is my last summer so I have to do everything.’ ” The Posts and Cotter described Amanda as a joyful, determined, humble girl who lived in the moment, had a silly sense of humor and was friends with everyone she met. She was also deeply religious and had found her soul mate in high school sweetheart Derek Thomas, who was also in the SUV crash. He suffered burns over 85 percent of his body and was given just a 1 percent chance of survival. But after six months in a coma, a year in the hospital and more than 80 surgeries, he’s thriving today. Thomas remains close to the Post family and designed the foundation’s logo, a capital “A” next to a small peach (his nickname for Amanda).

Because of their daughter’s effervescent spirit, the Posts organized an upbeat memorial service in Cathedral Catholic’s gym. Children were told to dress in colorful casual clothes, and in honor of Amanda’s favorite drink they each received a “Got Milk?” sticker at the door.

When video of her gold medal- winning 800-meter run was shown during the service, the crowd stood up and cheered her to the finish line.

Just two-and-a-half months after she died, the Amanda Post Memorial Golf Tournament was inaugurated at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club. It was organized by Keith McGuire, Greg’s friend and a fellow member of the North Coast Business Group. It’s the chief fundraiser for the scholarships and grants, which are handed out each spring by an eight-member selection committee that includes Greg and Missy. This year’s four-year scholarship recipients are Canyon Crest senior Kelly Bernd, who will run for UCLA, and Cathedral Catholic’s Claire Swafford, who will run for Gonzaga University. The next golf tournament is planned in April 2017 and a new event, a women’s Bunco Bonanza fundraiser, is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Next week’s Amanda Post Track Meet isn’t a fundraiser but a way to promote Amanda’s favorite sport. Young boys and girls and running teams pay $5 to compete in the events, which include 100-, 400-, 800and 1,600-meter runs and a 4 x 100 relay. Cotter said the first meet last June drew more than 150 youths, and this year they’re hoping to attract 200. Registration is required by Saturday. For details, visit amandapostfoundation. com.

Cotter, who retired from teaching at Mission Estancia Elementary in 2014, has been instrumental in keeping Amanda’s legacy alive at her alma mater. In 2011, he worked with parents and staff to have the school’s track renamed for Amanda.

And with former principal Sharmila Kraft, he established Amanda’s Run. For years, the school has held a celebratory 1-mile run for graduating sixth-graders.

Now the event also includes an 800-meter race in Amanda’s name.

Greg and Missy say the spring months can be emotionally trying with so many events tied to Amanda’s memory. But Greg said he takes solace in knowing Amanda lived a full life in her 18 years and she knew how much she was loved.

After Amanda’s death, one of her girlfriends mailed the couple a sympathy card encouraging them to weigh the choice between having had Amanda for a brief time or not at all.

“It was a profound letter and it moved us deeply,” he said. “She was our child, nobody else’s, and we had the privilege of having her with us for 18 years. What a blessing to have shared those 18 years with this incredible young woman who lit up our lives.”