Strides for Sotelo to host memorial run in honor of former WA student Emily Sotelo


Strides for Sotelo logo, created by Huynh Park.

Deepa Gautam, Co-Managing Editor

Strides for Sotelo will be hosting a memorial 5K run and walk on Sunday, June 11 to honor the legacy of late WA student Emily Sotelo. Taking place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the run will start at the WA track and continue for five kilometers through Westford. The event is open to people of all ages, as it offers the option to walk the trail alongside a one-lap race around the track for children 12 and under.

Registration for entry bibs, which are $22 for adults and $12 for children 12 and under, can be purchased online through the Strides For Sotelo website. The deadline for registration is Wednesday, June 7.

Prizes for first place winners range from a $15 Muffins on Main Gift Card and movie ticket passes for the female run and a $50 Evviva Trattoria Gift Card for the male run. All profits from the event will go towards creating a scholarship in the name of Emily Sotelo along with donations to the New Hampshire Search and Rescue Team and Dream Diné, a Navajo reservation in New Mexico.

Emily Sotelo was a sophomore at Vanderbilt University when she passed away during a hike in the White Mountains on November 20, 2022. This hike had been part of her goal to reach all 48 New Hampshire peaks before her 20th birthday.

“For me, the goal isn’t just to be first place, it is to raise money for the things my sister [Emily] was passionate about and to get the word out about her story,” senior Michelle Sotelo said. “Not just her story about how she passed and hoping to prevent future unprepared hikes, but also just the sphere that she carried around with her; her perseverance and her striving to always complete her goal. ”

Sotelo, along with senior Chandra Thay, is among the organizers for the event. After brainstorming different ways to honor Emily’s legacy with Dean Betsy Murphy, the pair decided upon creating a scholarship for graduating WA seniors that celebrated both Emily’s passions and unwavering persistence. In order to make the scholarship annual, they required an initial $10,000, which is what the primary funds from this first run will contribute towards.

“Eventually the scholarship will be passed on to the Westford Trustee Scholarships, but until then, we’re hoping to pick someone who resembled Emily’s goals and just her personality of how she was able to overcome the main challenges that she had in life,” Sotelo said. “And not only that, but her ability to push herself to succeed past these challenges and how her own determination is what helped her be the best that she could have been.”

Over the past few months, Sotelo and Thay have worked to get Strides for Sotelo up and running. It will operate as a nonprofit attached to the Emily M. Sotelo Safety and Persistence Charitable Foundation, which is a broader non-profit that aims to bring awareness to hiking safety while honoring Emily’s life. According to Thay, as their focus turned towards the memorial run, the process involved much coordination and outreach with the community.

Currently, the event is sponsored by various local organizations such as Acton Auto Werks, Middlesex Savings Bank, Kimball Farm, and the Westford Charitable Foundation, among others. When it came to the logistics of planning the race, Sotelo and Thay sought out the help of WA Track Coach and German teacher, Ashley Smith.

“We’re a strong community here in Westford. So anytime there’s an opportunity to help a family or a student at our school I’m very interested and I want to do my part to help,” Smith said. “I also have a love for running and a love for 5K’s and racing. So being able to put those together has been a lot of fun to learn about the inner workings of how 5K is planned but then also knowing Michelle and helping her bring her vision to life.”

According to Sotelo, the event, at its core, is a way for the herself and the Westford community to come together and honor Emily’s legacy.

“I hope to remember her through our experiences we shared, like being active together within our family,” Sotelo said. “We were the two people who were always paired off together, whether it was going on a hike, running, walking around, biking, or swimming. So this is just a way for me to reconnect with that, alongside other people.”

Among the participants for the event is French teacher Katrina Lackner, who will be running the female 5K race with her family.

I am excited to participate with my family because it is a very worthy cause and I would love to support Michelle in any way,” Lackner said. “[..] I think it is very important to take moments to mark the value and importance of those we love, and I’m very happy to be a part of this moment for Michelle.”

Although this is the first year that Strides for Sotelo will be holding this event, the group hopes it will eventually evolve into an annual event, according to Smith.

“I hope that we can get the word out, and get a lot of people signed up and a lot of community members involved.” Smith said. “Even if it’s on the tinier side this year, it’s just about getting visibility and having committee members see that this is a thing. This is the seed we’re planting to hopefully grow this 5K next year and over the coming years.”