September 21, 2012

Geppi-Aikens Memorial Race Evolves in Meaning in 10th Year

by Clare Lochary |

John "Pops" Geppi and Katherine "Mops" Geppi, the parents of former Loyola coach Diane Geppi-Aikens, talk to the Greyhounds women's lacrosse team during last year's memorial event held in their daughter's name. The 10th annual run and walk is Saturday.
Image courtesy Loyola athletics

Shannon Aikens's first memory of Loyola is from when she was about three years old, watching the women's lacrosse team play catch as her mother, Diane Geppi-Aikens, walked around and introduced her to the players. Geppi-Aikens was the Greyhounds coach for 14 years, leading them to the 2003 final four just weeks before her death after a long struggle against cancer.

"It's an awesome thing, to finally be here. I've always been a Greyhound, but to officially enroll, it's exciting," said Aikens, now 19 and a freshman attacker for Loyola.

Aikens and her three siblings grew up chasing each other around the school's North Baltimore campus and playing under the bleachers on the field where their mother worked – a field that now bears her name. The Loyola players were their playmates and babysitters. The program and the school have remained a part of their lives, most visibly through the annual Diane Geppi-Aikens Memorial 5K Race and 1-Mile Fun Walk. The 10th annual race will take place Saturday near Loyola's campus.

"Loyola, in our lives, in general, has been such a strong community for us. Just to know it matters so much, 10 years later, is really incredible," Aikens said.

Shortly after Geppi-Aikens' death, her close friend Ruthie Lavelle approached Loyola associate athletic director Teddi Burns about starting a memorial race to raise money for the four Aikens children's educations. John and Katherine Geppi have helped to organize the race established in their daughter's memory, along with Burns.

When the first race was held in fall 2003, there were 375 participants and it raised $15,000 dollars. The 2011 race had more than 700 participants, and equal or greater numbers are expected for the 10th anniversary edition. With Shannon, the youngest of the four Aikens kids in college, the race proceeds will now be directed to a scholarship for a Loyola women's lacrosse player.

When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday
(7 a.m. registration)

Where: Loyola University
More information

"It's really important to us, especially this year, since it's going to be a scholarship fund. We wanted it to go to something that was really going to help someone," Aikens said.

Geppi-Aikens' legacy was part of what drew current coach Jen Adams to Loyola when she accepted the head coaching job in 2008.

"The way Diane nurtured her players was something really special, and really dictated the culture here at Loyola. Her legacy is still very much ingrained in our program – living every moment, finding something you're passionate about and really putting 100% into it because it's what you love. It's something we carry with us," Adams said. "Diane proved that Loyola could be a national contender for a championship. We're hungry to take it one step further."

All the nearby Division I women's lacrosse programs – Towson, Johns Hopkins, UMBC and Maryland – will race, alongside friends, family and the greater Loyola and Baltimore communities.

"My favorite part is seeing everyone who comes back. My family from out of town, all the girls who played for my mom that still come back, year after year," Aikens said. "To know that she had such an effect on them, and that they want to come see how my family is doing, how I'm doing now that I'm here, it's always been really important."

For Aikens, it's weird to know that she's now one of the Greyhound players who've been around her all her life. She considered other schools during the recruiting process, but ultimately felt Loyola was the best place for her athletically and academically. She expects she'll get misty during the first time she's announced in the lineup. And the first time she gets to try on her uniform?

"Better than Christmas," she said.

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