Caroline Tocci, one of Marcotte’s cousins, and Ashley McNiff, a longtime friend and former roommate, are helping to launch the organization, which they hope will bring increased awareness to the issue of violence against women.
“Murder is rare, but assault is not,” Tocci said. “The statistics are really high. We want to spread awareness and share our story by partnering with organizations that can help reduce violence against women.”
One development Tocci would like to help advance is a new wearable technology called Athena, made by Roar for Good. It is a small device, a little bigger than the size of a quarter, that a runner clips onto his or her clothing. When tapped, it sends a distress text message to predetermined contacts that includes the runner’s current location. It can also be used as an alarm if help is needed immediately.
The foundation will also collaborate with nonprofits to which Marcotte volunteered her time, including Tutoring Plus, an organization that helps youth with academic, personal, and social enrichment in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
McNiff is preparing to run the 2017 Boston Marathon next month in Vanessa’s honor by raising funds for Tutoring Plus. She just finished her last 20 mile run over the weekend in preparation for the race on April 17.
“Vanessa mentioned that she wanted to run Boston one day, so I thought doing it this year would be meaningful,” McNiff said. “I don’t have any crazy goals—it’s more for the experience of doing it and raising awareness for the organization.”
Marcotte, who her loved ones repeatedly describe as intellectual, curious, and kind, began running shortly after graduating from Boston University. She didn’t chase many goals or find satisfaction in the competitive aspect of the sport, but she ran many 5K races and after Tocci’s father was diagnosed with cancer, the duo ran the 2014 Falmouth Road Race to raise funds for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
RELATED: Amid Grief, Parents Remember the Joy Their Daughters Found in Running
McNiff, who has trained for multiple marathons, said it was Marcotte who pushed her out the door many times when her motivation was lacking, often volunteering to join her for a few miles. Marcotte, who was constantly introducing McNiff to new “super foods” she had discovered, had been planning to run a half marathon sometime in the near future, she said.
“She was into yoga and wanted to add some cardio—and when she started working full time, running was also stress relief for her,” McNiff said. “She read the book Born to Run and after that it became more of a passion. She said she felt free when she was running—it didn’t matter how fast she went, she just loved to let her mind go.”
One of the first events to jumpstart the foundation will be a 5K race on June 17 in Princeton at Wachusett Mountain. It would have been Marcotte’s 28th birthday and Tocci and McNiff agree the date and place couldn’t be more appropriate for the race.
“We want this to be a big community event in Princeton because it aligns with one of our goals of not being afraid,” Tocci said. “To have so many residents out running in Princeton that day is important.”
The 5K’s symbolism doesn’t end there, the women agree.
“She would have loved to be running outside, in nature, with her friends on her birthday,” McNiff said. “This is Vanessa’s perfect day.”
Meanwhile, authorities continue to make progress in Marcotte’s unsolved murder. Earlier this month during a press conference the Worcester District Attorney announced that they have collected DNA evidence. While a name of a suspect has not been released, officials are looking for a Hispanic or Latino male, approximately 30 years old, with light to medium complexion, average height, and an athletic build. He had short or shaved hair at the time of the murder and sustained scratches around the face, neck, arms, hands, and upper body, they said.
Marcotte was one of three female victims of murder in nine days last summer. Ally Brueger was shot four times in the back on July 30 while on a daytime run near her home in Michigan in another unsolved crime. Katrina Vetrano was sexually assaulted and strangled to death during an afternoon run near her parents’ home in Queens. Chanel Lewis, 20, of Brooklyn, was charged in February with second-degree murder in Vetrano’s case.
“The underlying message was that nobody would expect these things to happen on a run in the middle of the day in the summer,” McNiff said. “We don’t want women to be afraid to run, but the reality is that unfortunately at this point we need to be aware. We don’t want to scare anyone. Our goal is to help create awareness.”