Paso Robles High School graduates and Chico State cross country teammates Trad Berti and Zach Chamberlain took off on a morning run Wednesday, but as they set off through the streets of Paso, the normal chatter about running and their impending return to school was the furthest thing from their minds.
At the forefront was Brittni Frace, a teammate on the Chico State cross country team from Paso Robles who was killed Tuesday morning on her drive back to campus. Her sister Brynn, who was driving, survived but remained in critical condition in a Fresno hospital as of Wednesday evening.
“It’s one heck of a life lesson,” said Berti, who trained with Brittni during the winter break. “It’s a reminder to be thankful for what you have.”
Chico State coach Gary Towne said he received the news of the deadly crash and called to inform Chamberlain. Chamberlain, who had coffee with Brittni just a few days ago, was devastated.
“I have never experienced anything like this,” Chamberlain said Wednesday of the 2016 graduate from Atascadero High School. “She was just an amazing teammate and just a better person. One of the nicest people I knew.”
It’s the first time in more than 20 years of coaching that Towne has lost a team member.
“She was in the prime of her life. You just never expect something like this,” Towne said.
Towne said Brittni Frace was part of a group of sophomores with a strong family bond.
“Every day was like a ‘Friends’ episode: lots of jokes, smiles and hard work,” Towne said. “That’s part of what makes this exceptionally difficult. I really feel for her teammates and especially her family who is going though this.”
While Towne said he doesn’t know Brynn too well, he knew that she transferred to the school from Humboldt State to start the school year, and he had seen her run. After speaking to Brynn’s mother on Tuesday, he learned Brynn had outside intentions of trying to make the team.
It’s a team that has already started to come together in the face of tragedy. On Tuesday night, team members met at the apartment where the two sisters lived together to talk about how to cope with the loss and remember their friend.
Chico State issued a statement on the crash and offered free counseling to students who need the support.
Towne said he will try to pull the team together when they meet again for practice in a week.
“I will address the team and I don’t know what it will look like, but I just know we are going to have to get though it together,” Towne said.