In 2014, the Lopes family faced the unimaginable when Justin Lopes, who was just 21, unexpectedly passed away. Almost eight years later, his family and friends continue to grieve his loss. Justin was kind, funny and always made an effort to befriend everyone. “Anyone who knew Justin would agree that he loved bringing people together,” said Justin’s sister, Rebecca Lopes Aul.
To honor his memory and carry on that spirit of “togetherness,” the Lopes family, along with close friends David and Andrea Phillips, decided to put together a community fundraiser event. And so began the Derby Run. Justin loved sports and from a young age showed great promise as an athlete. The two families decided it would be fitting to host a community run in his honor.
Justin was a rising senior at the University of South Carolina majoring in finance when he died. He was a graduate of Terry Sanford High School, where he excelled in academics and athletics. Justin was an honor roll student and played varsity soccer. He was the captain of the varsity soccer team and was named to the All-Conference and All Cape Fear Region Boys’ Soccer Team. His sister Emily rarely missed a game.
He not only enjoyed playing sports but also enjoyed watching pro sports. An annual summer tradition was attending Major League Baseball games with his dad. Justin’s goal was to go to every MLB park.
“Our family has always been extremely close,” said Justin’s mom, Donna Lopes. “We loved Justin so much and continue to miss him every day. It means so much to our family that friends and family are coming together to raise money to benefit children within the community in his memory.”
According to the Lopes family, Justin loved traditions, particularly those surrounding holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. He loved helping decorate the Christmas tree each year and would insist that the tree not only be a live one but also that it be handpicked by him. At a young age, Justin developed an interest in cooking and especially enjoyed helping cook the big holiday meals. He would often brag that he had his mom’s dressing recipe (his absolute favorite) down to a science.
“Justin would love that the Derby Run has become such a special tradition within our community,’’ Donna Lopes said. “He would be so proud of the organizations it benefits and he would be proud that the event brings so many people from all parts of our city together.”
This year’s event will take place Saturday, May 14, at Terry Sanford High School and will include a 10K, 5K and one-mile fun run. Both the 5K and 10K courses run through the scenic Haymount area as well as the Fayetteville Technical Community College campus and finish near the Terry Sanford High School baseball field.
The Derby Run is a fun event for runners and walkers but also for families. Everyone who is interested is encouraged to wear a Kentucky Derby-style hat or costume and decorate strollers in a Derby theme. Judges will choose the best in each category. We are excited that Princess Elsa and Captain America will be at the event this year. There will also be face painting for children.
All proceeds from The Derby Run go to charities that benefit children, including the Child Advocacy Center and Cy’s World Foundation and two scholarships set up in Justin’s memory. The Child Advocacy Center works with partners in the community, including law enforcement and medical practitioners, to offer children a safe place that supports the prevention, investigation and prosecution of child abuse.
Cy’s World Foundation was founded in 2010 to honor Edgar Clyde Garber IV, who died at age 17. Cy’s World Foundation seeks to promote a love of the outdoors. The goal of the organization is to offer grants that focus on teaching, introducing and compelling youth to enjoy the outdoors safely, with conservation of natural resources and sustainable practices to ensure these activities are here for others to enjoy for many generations.
To honor Justin, the family set up two scholarships with the Cumberland Community Foundation. The first is the Justin Richard Lopes University of South Carolina Award. It was created for a graduating senior from a Cumberland County high school who will attend the University of South Carolina. The second, the Justin Richard Lopes Soccer Award, was created in celebration of Justin’s joy and energy on and off the soccer field for lettered members of the varsity boys’ soccer team at Terry Sanford High School.
To register for The Derby Run, go to runsignup.com/thederbyrun.