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Remembering Nicole

USF women’s soccer coaches Denise Schilte-Brown and Chris Brown go for a jog almost every day. Together they run up and down campus or even as far as Fowler Avenue, talking about life, the team and about soccer tactics.Once a year, however, Denise and Chris run for a far greater reason: in remembrance of Nicole.

In partnership with the Nicole Megaloudis Foundation, Schilte-Brown will host the second annual Florida 5K Run/Walk on Saturday at 10 a.m. to raise  money in honor of Megaloudis, who played under Schilte-Brown at Virginia Commonwealth and died in a car accident five years ago.

On Feb. 9, 2004, Megaloudis, 19, was killed while driving on I-64 in Virginia. A talented soccer player and loving person  who wanted to work in Africa and Haiti to help AIDS victims, the VCU freshman touched the lives of many people, including Schilte-Brown, who coached at Virginia Commonwealth for seven years.

VCU honored Megaloudis by holding a service and planting a tree at the school, and putting her number on the field.

“We had the best season  in school history (in 2005) and we dedicated it to Nicole,” Schilte-Brown said. “It was incredibly hard. I think we all grew from the experience, but there’s not a day that goes by that anyone who knew Nicole doesn’t think of her. She had this amazing personality, and she stood out from the crowd.”

Her mother, Gail Rongen, established the foundation shortly after Nicole’s death. Since then, it has raised money to provide need-based scholarships to high school athletes, holding soccer tournaments, run/walks and other events on the East coast.

“My daughter was someone who came from a soccer background, so helping athletes who need money to go to school was what we wanted to do,” Rongen said. “I think the one thing about Nicole was that she had this incredible sprit. She really was a humanitarian.”

When Schilte-Brown left VCU to accept the USF coaching job, she brought the event
to Tampa.

“This is something that’s close to my heart. It’s close to all of our hearts,” she said.

The entire women’s soccer team helps raise money, too. One of freshman midfielder Chantelle Goodson’s best friends died her sophomore year of high school, and she said dealing with that has helped her relate to the foundation.

“We try going around to local businesses, asking for money and raising awareness,” Goodson said. “It’s something that has affected me a lot.”

In its six-year existence, the foundation has provided $15,000-$20,000 per year in scholarship money, as well as furthering Megaloudis’ dream of helping AIDS victims in Haiti and Africa. Schilte-Brown’s events have generated no less than $10,000 per year, and Rongen said it’s been a blessing to have USF providing support in her daughter’s memory.

“Both Denise and Chris have taken this event head-on and by their own doing, they chose to carry this on,” she said. “I’ve always felt really close to them since the day we met, when they recruited Nicole to VCU. They are like family to me. I think this has been a healing process for both of them to be able to do this.”

However, it’s been tough to generate fundraising in Florida, said Nicole’s stepfather Thomas, who is the U-20 U.S. National Team coach. The Rongens lived in St. Petersburg in 1996, when Thomas coached the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Nicole played
Little League soccer in Tampa.

“There’s always been an incredible connection with soccer in our family, with myself and Nicole, but it’s like we have an extended family down there in Tampa,” he said. “It’s been tough because the foundation is just in its second year down in South Florida, but I’m hoping it will grow.”

The 5K walk/run will begin outside the USF Soccer Stadium. Registration begins at 9 a.m., and Schilte-Brown said there will be a raffle and food and drinks provided by sponsors. A donation of $15 for students and $25 for non-students is required.

Gail said she plans on flying down to Tampa on Saturday to support the foundation. She said she’s excited about where it’s going and hopes to begin raising more money for AIDS victims in Haiti. Two years after Nicole’s death, Gail took a trip to Haiti, where she spent 10 days that changed her life.

“There is just so much need down there,” she said. “When I got back to the United States, I didn’t even want to be here. We are so lucky to have the things we do. Those people down there are in the poorest conditions in our hemisphere, and they have a smile on their face every day.”

With the support of the USF team and her husband, Gail is hoping to continue work in Nicole’s memory.

“This is what motivates me to get out bed in the morning,” she said.

Anyone interested in giving to the Nicole Megaloudis foundation can visit its Web site at www.remembernicole.org