'Todd's Trot' remembers West Point cadet who died in training
Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.
DOVER, N.H. — In a perfect world, Todd Heuchling would be getting ready to graduate from West Point this spring and looking forward to a future that seemed limitless.
Instead, the only thing his family and friends have to hold onto is a past. Heuchling collapsed and died of heat stroke in August of 2003 while trying out for the military academy's marathon team. He was 19.
A former standout athlete at Oyster River High School in Durham, he'll be remembered today with the third annual Todd's Trot, a 5K road race that honors a determined young man who had a passion for running and physical fitness.
Among those expected to compete are approximately 80 cadets who made the five-hour bus ride this morning from New York. Many are from Heuchling's graduating class while others were running with him when he collapsed only yards from the finish line of an eight-mile training run.
"Todd loved to run," said Sally Heuchling, Todd's mom. "He died running. His friends come back from college and the West Point cadets make the trip here. They leave early in the morning to run in this race. They're very dedicated."
As always, it will be a trying time for Bob and Sally Heuchling, who were confronted almost three years ago with one of the worst tragedies imaginable: the loss of a child.
The Heuchlings host a barbecue following the race that begins this morning at 10 when more than 400 runners are expected to leave the high school at 55 Coe Drive.
Not only would this have been Todd Heuchling's graduation year, but today would have been his 22nd birthday. Those in attendance, however, must celebrate a life cut far too short. By attending West Point, Heuchling realized his ambition before he died.
"It will be a very emotional day for us," said Sally Heuchling, who noted that the school presented the family with Todd's class flag following his death.
Organized by the Friends of Oyster River Track (F.O.R.T.) and the Heuchling family, the event also receives much-appreciated support from the community.
A recreation management class at the University of New Hampshire has volunteered its services this year and a ROTC unit from the school plans to run the 3.1-mile race in uniform with full packs.
"My heart soars at the love people give us," Sally Heuchling said. "During this race all the runners say they can feel Todd's spirit. It means so much to us. There's a sadness he's not there. We're doing this in his memory. We miss him. We're grateful for the response. It's a huge gift to us."
Proceeds from the event go toward the Peter Todd Heuchling Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was established to perpetuate his memory through a $1,000 scholarship to be awarded annually to a deserving Oyster River graduate.
Durham's Mike O'Brien won last year's race while his wife, Cathy O'Brien, captured the women's competition for the second year in a row. The only negative will be the absence of Rob Heuchling, Todd's older brother who is in the Navy and stationed near Iraq in the Persian Gulf.
Rob Heuchling, 25, ran in the first two races, which proved to be popular and blessed with ideal weather. Sally Heuchling said the family plans to keep Todd's Trot an annual event.
She's also been in contact with the liaison from West Point, who indicated the cadets would like to continue their participation even though this would have been Todd's graduation year "They've been good about keeping in contact with us," she said. "It means a lot to us to have their presence."
"I had no idea what to expect," Sally Heuchling said of the inaugural event in 2004. "It's been wonderful. It's a huge event. The first year when 400 people came we were so overwhelmed. The next year 600 came. Someone said it's one of the fastest-growing races on the Seacoast. It's amazing.
"This is Todd's day," she added. "I know I'm a parent, but Todd was one great human being. This is such a wonderful tribute. A friend told me that our biggest fear is that people won't remember them. So this means so much to us."