Chris Kvech (18) says he still carries the life lessons Woodward taught him in middle school, like how to be the bigger person in a conflict. “He was that guy you could talk to about anything,” Kvech says. “He wouldn’t judge you.”
At the funeral, a group of student athletes from Loch Raven High School approached Barton. “One said that Ben gave him his first pair of running shoes,” she says. “It turned out about six kids said that he gave them shoes.”
As the group shared stories, Barton says, everybody started to laugh. Each student thought they were the only one Woodward had helped. “I think he gave in secret because he didn’t want anyone to feel shame,” Barton says.
She and Woodward knew how it felt to need shoes they couldn’t afford. Barton was a single mom who worked two jobs in order to provide for her four kids. She couldn’t afford new running shoes when Woodward started his first cross country season. So, another family offered to take him shopping.
They bought Woodward shoes, and wouldn’t let Barton pay them back. Instead, they requested that Woodward and Barton help someone else when they could. “I had no idea the extent to which he would fulfill that promise,” she says.
Garrett Harris, 19, was another student who Woodward coached and looked out for. He says, “I didn’t grow up with a father and he kinda took that spot.” Woodward taught him how to be mentally tough, something he also helped his mother with.
What Woodward saw in his mother
“I was overweight as a kid,” Barton says. “I never tried any sports because I didn’t want somebody to make fun of my weight.” Her struggle with negative self-talk and fear of failure got in her way.
Woodward challenged her in March of 2018 at his half marathon in Virginia Beach. She was there to cheer for him and his younger sister, Olivia, 20. Ben crossed the finish line, and she ran to greet him.
“Mom, don't you ever get tired of waiting at the finish line for me?” he said, and held up his finisher’s medal. “Don't you ever want to cross it yourself, and have one of these around your neck?"
In that moment, Barton realized that she did want to run a half marathon. But she wasn’t sure if she could. She was 51 and had never run a step in her life. Ben was an experienced runner and coach. He insisted on training her. They made a goal that she would run the same half marathon the following year.