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'No Fear All Fun' Running Event Honors Memory of Madison La Follette Student-Athlete Michael Neill

Jon Masson | Wisconsin State Journal


Almost three years later, some days can be difficult for Sherri Neill.


That’s when her thoughts shift to her late son, Michael.


“It’s kind of day by day,” she said. “Some days are hard. Sometimes, when I’m driving down Reiner Road, it’s kind of hard.”


Michael Neill, a Madison La Follette student-athlete, died at age 16 from injuries he sustained in an automobile accident the night of Sept. 3, 2017 — just prior to his junior year in high school.


After taking in a movie with friends in Sun Prairie, the accident occurred on Reiner Road as he drove home.


He swerved — it’s believed he was dodging an animal, Sherri Neill said — and hit the road’s edge. He overcorrected, and struck a tree. Sherri Neill said it’s believed the vehicle’s speed was a factor, but there were no drugs or alcohol involved, he was wearing a seat belt and his phone was in the vehicle’s glove box.


“It took a long time to accept it was just an accident,” she said.


At that moment, everything changed for their family, she said.


Nothing would be the same.


Michael Neill took honors and advanced classes and one day hoped to become a pediatric surgeon, she said.


He competed in cross country and track and field for the Lancers and played saxophone in the La Follette concert, marching and pep bands.


During a 3,200-meter race during a high school meet in Sun Prairie, Sherri Neill recalled how Michael stopped running so he could help a fallen competitor off the track before further injuries to that runner or others might occur.


“My son was a very vibrant, social, intelligent kid who always helped young kids,” she said. “It was always his goal to make sure that young kids would have more than he had. That’s just the way he was.”


Sherri and her husband, Joe, were asked by parents, coaches and their friends in the Lancers’ cross country community what they planned to do, particularly since the Neill family, which includes an older son, Sean, had been so involved in cross country.


“You can’t just walk away from cross country,” she said. “You become very close to these people. My son’s death was extremely hard on the schools’ coaches, including at Whitehorse Middle School, where he attended middle school. We all got together after Michael died.”


An idea blossomed from their discussions about how to honor Michael’s passion for people and life: “The No Fear All Fun 5K/1M Trail Run/Walk.”


Sherri and Joe Neill are the co-owners and directors of the event in memory of Michael (who also was an organ donor).


This is the third year of the event, which saw runners and walkers gather the past two years in August at Lake Farm County Park in Madison.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group will not gather at Lake Farm this summer.


The event is being held virtually this year. Online registration is underway.


In the each of the past two years, the event had a combined total of about 200 runners. The event has raised more than $18,000 overall, Sherri Neill said.


The event benefits the Sennett and Whitehorse middle schools’ running and cross country teams and coaches, including helping fund running uniforms, transportation and a timing clock used for middle school meets, she said.


“That was really cool; we helped fund that,” she said about the timing clock.


The number of runners for the two teams has grown from 20 or 25 combined to about 60 (30 on each team), she said.


This year, runners and walkers are asked to register at nofearallfun.org.


“If you want to run a 5K somewhere, sometime, anywhere, anytime before Aug. 8 you can,” Sherri Neill said.


Neill asked that the participating individual or group send in a photo to the event’s registration website — the email address is nofearallfun@gmail.com — after the run or walk is completed so that a photo album can be created.


There isn’t a set fee for registration this year.


“If you want to donate a dollar, donate a dollar,” she said. “Do what you think is right.”

As of this past week, she said about 50 had registered and she hopes that number will increase to around 200.


“Near or far, it doesn’t matter where you live (to register and participate),” said Neill, who also planned to display a banner about the event at Messiah Lutheran Church, where Michael was in the youth group and participated in several mission trips.


“We want to grow this event so we can help fund the middle schools,” Sherri Neill said. “Wouldn’t it be great if more kids were out exercising? A lot are inside watching video games. Even if they walk, that’s OK, that’s totally OK. Maybe that will help give them a sense of belonging.”


She hopes the event eventually will grow so that runners in schools feeding into La Follette and Madison East will be assisted.


“It helps because we are doing something positive,” she said. “Doing something positive helps keep you going as a person. You know you are helping other people. … At least, that’s what my son would have wanted.”


This article was originally published by the Wisconsin State Journal on July 12, 2020. To view the full story on their website, please visit: https://madison.com/wsj/sports/no-fear-all-fun-running-event-honors-memory-of-madison-la-follette-student-athlete-michael/article_e90ec6b5-6d2a-5fa3-9e50-122a269ad6c8.html#tracking-source=home-top-story-1

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