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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Life runs on for McGregor

    UA junior cross country runner Emily McGregor, left, and her twin sister Valerie celebrate together at Christmas. After losing Valerie to a car accident in late June, Emily is fighting to recapture the title of womens cross countrys top runner after suffering through mental and physical struggles.
    UA junior cross country runner Emily McGregor, left, and her twin sister Valerie celebrate together at Christmas. After losing Valerie to a car accident in late June, Emily is fighting to recapture the title of women’s cross country’s top runner after suffering through mental and physical struggles.

    It was a long trip from Fort Collins, Colo., to South Bend, Ind., the site of the Notre Dame Invitational, but it was more than worth the 16-hour bus ride to see her twin sister again.

    Valerie McGregor stepped off the bus from Colorado State University, dropped all of her belongings and ran toward the Arizona cross country team where Emily McGregor stood with her teammates. Emily mirrored Valerie’s actions, just as she mirrored her appearance, and the two met in between, where anticipation ended and hugs began.

    “”It was like everything was in slow motion, and ‘Chariots of Fire’ was playing,”” Emily said.

    This special bond that the sisters shared was cut short when Emily, now a junior, lost her sister in a car accident, just 14 months after their mother passed away.

    The twins had always been together – in and out of their running shoes – until Emily transferred to Arizona after her freshman year in 2004. This was the first time she had ever been apart from her sister for more than a few days, and even then their separation was only physical.

    “”After I moved, I still felt like I was with her all the time,”” she said. “”I would call her and talk to her up to five times a day. Plus, I had my mom close to me again to balance the situation out.””

    Things went well for the sisters at first. Valerie’s boyfriend, Sam, had moved to Denver to be closer to her and to pursue a musical career. Emily was with her boyfriend – Craig Dye, a runner on the Arizona men’s cross country team – and also her mother, Judy, and grandparents were near.

    In August 2004, Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the year came to an end and track season approached, Emily was there for her mother.

    “”Starting that January, I told my coaches, ‘Just count me out. There is no way I could attempt to do anything for the upcoming season,'”” she said.

    But Judy raised her children to be strong, and encouraged Emily to compete.

    “”I ran one outdoor track meet, and she came even though she really shouldn’t have because she was weak,”” Emily said. “”But I was so excited. I heard her on every single lap cheering for me.””

    The next April, Judy passed away after serving six years in the Tucson Police Department.

    Of course, this was a poignant loss for the McGregor twins, but they remained strong because they still had each other.

    “”It didn’t hit me too hard because I still felt like I had a support system,”” Emily said. Having a twin kept me stable.””

    That stability would last for just more than 14 months.

    On June 29, a Thursday morning, Valerie and Sam, who were now engaged, left for Tucson to attend their bridal shower on Saturday, and to have their wedding a week later. The night before, Emily and Valerie spoke on the phone – part of their daily regimen – about the upcoming week.

    “”Val sounded exhausted,”” Emily said of the phone call.

    The next day she could not reach Valerie via cell phone.

    “”I just figured she didn’t have cell service,”” Emily said. “”Sometimes that happens when you’re driving on the highway.””

    The events that took place on highway I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M., that morning were surreal.

    A car full of missionaries was traveling on the same road. The driver got a really bad headache, and he felt like God was telling him that he needed to pray for someone, said Emily, who later talked to him.

    At about 7 in the morning, the missionaries pulled over at a rest stop to pray, and at that time a 2003 Toyota Tacoma pickup – driven by Valerie – passed them. Sam was asleep in the passenger seat.

    Once the missionaries were done praying, they got back on the road, and minutes later the truck in front of them veered into the median, skidded and rolled several times. They saw everything happen.

    “”Valerie had passed away instantly,”” Emily said. “”We think she fell asleep at the wheel. The missionaries prayed with Sam, who was still alive. He passed away about four hours later after being airlifted to a hospital.””

    Even though the car flipped several times, Valerie’s bible was still sitting right next to her in the truck, undisturbed, Emily said.

    “”The missionary said she had ‘a look of peace on her face,'”” Emily said.

    Emily was now alone; both sides of her support system were gone. Of course she had her older sister Wendy and her father Lyle, who both lived in Ohio, but it wasn’t the same.

    Dye tried filling in the void.

    “”Of course I’m not ever going to be able to be to her what her sister and mother were to her, but I told her I am willing to be her best friend,”” he said.

    After being the first Wildcat to cross the finish line in every meet last season, Emily abstained from running nearly the entire month of July because of the mental challenge that the deaths presented.

    “”She is learning to accept what has happened,”” Dye said, “”and through that acceptance she is learning to control her pain and her emotions better.””

    She became very close to UA assistant coach Amy Skieresz-Wilson, who became “”an older sister to her.””

    “”I was a sounding board for her at first,”” Wilson said. “”Just an unbiased source who would listen to her. Over the last year and a half I feel like I’ve become more than a coach. I feel like more of a friend and a big sister now.””

    Said Emily: “”I thought about not even racing this year, and coach Amy told me that even if I didn’t race she still wanted me to come out and see us because I was still part of the family.””

    Emily decided to become an active part of the family again, racing Saturday in the Roy Griak Invitational.

    Picking up the routine of cross country again was “”done out of respect for her sister,”” Dye said. “”Her sister would have wanted her to continue running.””

    Her showing in her first race back was the “”worst in my career,”” Emily said.

    She kept having flashbacks of racing with her sister, upcoming schoolwork and anything else that didn’t pertain to running. On top of that, she wasn’t physically prepared due to the time she took off in the summer.

    “”She has struggled coming back, but she is already showing signs of improvement,”” Skieresz-Wilson said.

    There is no doubt that in weeks to come, she will be one of the team’s top runners again, the coach added.

    “”Sometimes life throws situations at you, and you have to handle it accordingly if you have any desire to succeed,”” Dye said. “”The desire of running was gone for a while, but it’s coming back.””

    In addition to coming back as a runner, Emily will work on her major in the field of nutritional sciences, though she once wanted to be a meteorologist, predicting the weather.

    But she never could have predicted the weather on the day of Val and Sam’s funeral.

    It had been pouring outside, and it looked like it was 8 at night, but it was about 2 in the afternoon, she said.

    “”I was already upset, we were already having a funeral, and it poured the whole car ride to the cemetery,”” she said. “”I thought, ‘Could this day get any worse?’

    “”When we got there, this huge circle of blue sky and sunshine opened up right over us. There was black all around except for right over us.””

    That was when she knew that Valerie, Sam and Judy had never really left.

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