Come Run With Me: Remembering the Cross Country Cowboys 14 Years Later
14 years ago, students at the University of Wyoming were still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks when tragedy struck again. In the early morning hours of September 16th, eight members of the UW Cross Country team were struck by a drunk driver on US Highway 287, 17 miles south of Laramie.
In a flash, the accident claimed the lives of 20-year-old Nick Schabron, 19-year-old Shane Shatto, 22-year-old Joshua Jones, 19-year-old Kevin Salverson, 21-year-old Morgan McLeland, 20-year-old Kyle Johnson, 20-year-old Justin Lambert-Belanger, and 21-year-old Cody Brown. All of them so young, all in the prime of their lives, all of them gone in an instant.
It's a moment that nobody in Wyoming will ever forget, including former UW student athlete Kristen Lenhardt who was a freshman on the women's basketball team that year. That evening, like the eight members of the Cross Country team, she had traveled to Fort Collins to have dinner with friends.
"I remember that night like it was yesterday," said Lenhardt. "I was driving back to Laramie and it was so foggy, I had a real uneasy feeling and almost pulled over. I took it slow and ended up making it back to campus about an hour before the accident."
The next morning, news of the tragedy sent shock waves across the campus. According to Lenhardt, "It was devastating. Not just for the students, but for the entire state. It was a huge loss and everyone felt it."
Following the accident, her coaches discouraged Lenhardt and her teammates from driving on the curvy, two lane highway. "When we rode down to Fort Collins to play CSU that year, we took the long way over to I-25. And we were told not to take 287 for personal trips."
14 years later, the desolate stretch of highway where the tragedy took place has since been expanded to four lanes. A small white sign at the site of the accident commemorates the victims.
The legacy of the Cross Country Cowboys also lives on at the University. Just south of the War Memorial Memorial Fieldhouse, eight large rocks memorialize the victims. Pictures of the Cross County Eight, who were each inducted into the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, adorn the walls of the athletic department.
The cross country team still runs at UW, thanks in part to those student athletes who lost their lives that day. In the years following the tragedy, the Always a Cowboy Run and Walk has raised thousands of dollars to help support the program.
And even though they were small children when the accident took place, current members of the team are reminded of the Cross Country Eight every day. At the Louis S. Madrid Sports Complex, a monument to the Cross Country Cowboys greets them before practice, inviting them to "Come Run With Me."