Somewhere along Santa Ynez Avenue, close to Atascadero High School, grew a patch of pink flowers.
Every once in a while, during track practice, Brynn and Brittni Frace would stop and grab a few as they ran down the street for their afternoon workout and then back to campus. They loved to put the flowers in their long hair and even brought a few back to the school to tuck in their coach’s hat.
“I don’t know what little old lady they were raiding the flowers from,” Atascadero track and field coach Roger Warnes said, managing a smile. It’s moments like these Warnes remembers most.
On Friday afternoon, pink and purple and yellow flowers made up a memorial under a flag pole that sits next to the track where the inseparable sisters ran countless laps together. Mixed with the flowers were photos and condolences.
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The loss of the sisters and standout track athletes, who died as the result of a Tuesday collision with a semi truck near Interstate 5 as they made their way back to the Chico State campus, continued to shake the community. Brynn Frace was 22 years old. Brittni was 20.
A community mourns
Warnes, the Atascadero High track and field team and former teammates gathered at the flag pole on campus Friday to hug, cry and remember the sisters.
“I just talked about how you need to be with each other and give each other strength,” Warnes said. “It’s OK to cry and let your emotions out, but the most important part is to remember all the positive and great and wonderful things that Bitty and Brynn brought into our world.”
A similar memorial was held just a few miles away at Highlands Church in Paso Robles, the family’s place of worship.
There, mourners wrote their favorite memories of the sisters on note cards and clipped them to a string alongside photos and flowers.
“Brittni, you were my oldest friend. I cherished every minute of it. You will always be in my heart. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for you,” one card read.
“All of us have such great memories of things that we did with them that we can hold on to,” Warnes said. The sisters final days were spent with their longtime coach at a race in Phoenix.
“The last five days with them was fantastic,” Warnes said, standing on the burnt orange track at Atascadero High. “They were so happy. They really enjoyed the choices they made to go to Chico State and loved their running and were really looking forward to a lot of things.”
Jeremy Grigsby, a 2015 graduate of Atascadero High, was a teammate of both sisters.
“The bond that they had was inseparable,” Grigsby said Friday as he stood with other former teammates who knew the sisters. “You run together. You become a family. That’s how it works. And they held down a big portion of it just by being them. They were always just vibrant. Every race, every practice was enlightening with them.”
Bob Rollins, a friend of the family for 20 years, has stepped in as the Frace family spokesperson as mother Shari, father Warren (Paso Robles’ community development director), and brother Braedon continue to grieve.
“I know that the family’s desire is that they celebrate and lift up Brynn and Brittni and the accomplishments that they had and the very positive impact that they had on others,” Rollins said. “Initially, we would ask for space for the family to grieve and to respect their privacy. That is the most important thing for them right now. In weeks to come there will be an opportunity for people to reach out.”
Plans for a memorial
Rollins said the family is in the process of planning a memorial service that is tentatively scheduled for next Friday afternoon. For now, the family asks people who knew the sisters to visit the memorial at Highlands Church to say a prayer and recount a happy memory.
“You couldn’t write anything but positive things about those two,” Warnes said. “Just being around (Brittni) made me a better person. I think they made everybody a better person.”
Warnes and Rollins said there are several plans in the works to honor the sisters in the future including a possible race and fundraiser in their honor. There’s already a working title: The Flower Run.