It was an exciting and moving event Saturday morning as hundreds of participants gathered at Chilhowie High School to participate in the Men Behind the Smiles Legacy 5K to honor Will Walker and Lucas Dowell.
The two young men who were friends growing up in Chilhowie died within months of each other.
Walker, 30, a high school agriculture teacher who was killed in a farming accident in September 2018, and Dowell, 28, a Virginia state trooper killed in the line of duty this past February, are remembered as good, kind men with infectious smiles.
It was the memory of those smiles that led organizers of the fundraiser to seek a way to help others find their smiles in memory of Walker and Dowell.
Family members and supporters planned and conducted the Men Behind the Smiles Legacy 5K to raise money for Operation Smile, a Virginia-based organization and international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities.
“I can honestly say, I have never felt more proud to be from Southwest Virginia than I have today,” said Kenan Branson Hamilton, organizer, on Facebook following the event. “It has been my greatest privilege to help Lucas and Will’s families honor them and their infectious smiles. Their impact on many communities was felt in an amazing way today.”
“There is no way to adequately thank everyone who had a hand in this day,” said Hamilton, who hosted the event along with Angela St. John Little and Fallon Walker Grinstead. “From the sponsors, volunteers, Town of Chilhowie, all the police officers and all of the participants, I wish I could have hugged and thanked each and every one of you.”
There were more than 70 sponsors and over 500 participants registered, said organizers at the end of the event, which “raised enough to provide more than 100 new smiles.”
The organizers posted the run/walk times for 393 participants. Those runners and walkers came from Chilhowie, Marion, Abingdon, Rural Retreat, Glade Spring, Saltville, Wytheville, Damascus, Bland, Meadowview, Sugar Grove, Bastian, and Emory plus longer distances, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, IL, Chagrin, OH, Gibsonia, PA, Blountville, Kingsport and Bristol, TN, Rocky Mount and Hope Mills, N.C., Columbia and Florence, S.C., and Lynchburg, Chester, Richmond, Powhatan, Columbia Heights, Elk Creek, Front Royal and Radford.
Overall winners were: male – Lucas Blevins, 15, of Chilhowie, 18:14; and female – Mollie Rutledge, 27, of Glade Spring, 22.32.
Memorials to Will Walker and Lucas Dowell were set up along the race route at the farmers market under construction and named for Walker and the former Warrior Park named for Dowell.
Walker’s widow, Ashley Spence Walker, and their daughter, Emery Kate Walker, who was only a few months old when her father died, paused during the race at the memorial for Will.
Retiring State Sen. Bill Carrico presented joint Senate and House resolutions and a special license plate honoring Lucas Dowell and Will Walker to family members prior to the race. He was accompanied by Delegates Todd Pillion and Israel O’Quinn.
Daniel Lundy and London Atkins and family members of the Virginia State Police 3rd Division in Lynchburg participated in the event.
“We are here for Team Lucas,” said Lundy. “He was our friend.”