On August 24, 2008, RJ Reynolds, The Summit School and many other nearby communities suffered a great loss of one of their best, Matthew Gfeller. A sophomore linebacker for Reynolds at the time, Gfeller died after sustaining a helmet to helmet collision on the football field during the season opener against Page two days prior. Every year since, the Matt Gfeller Doughnut Run has taken place at Reynolds. However, November 12 of this year marks the last run in his honor.
“The run is an annual ritual that brings our many family members and friends together to remember Matt for the fun loving young man that he was, celebrate his life together, and have some fun that benefits his legacy of making youth sports safer,” Matt’s father Bob Gfeller said.
Soon after he passed, three of Matt’s friends thought up the event and created the core group of friends of the family who would start the run. After his friends moved on to college, the Gfellers took over what has become a massive event for various groups at Reynolds such as A Cappella, Dancing Boots, Key Club, cheerleaders and the Winston-Salem community as well.
“Key Club has always been a part of the race. Most of the things we do are behind-the-scenes during the actual race,” Key Club sponsor and AP U.S. History teacher John Clevenger said. “It highlights the positive impact a group can make in the community by embracing a good cause and working to achieve that cause together.”
Some question the logic of someone who is crazy enough to want to get up early on a crisp fall day to run a 5K that involves eating six Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but Winston-Salem locals know exactly why.
In the run’s span they have raised over $300,000 for continued research. Last years alone the run brought in 906 runners and over 100 volunteers.
Not only have the Gfellers been on a mission to spread awareness about sports-related Traumatic Brain Injuries through the run but in the Matthew Alan Gfeller Foundation, which they started. Through the foundation they have created the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, played a large part in passing the 2011 Gfeller-Waller Concussion Awareness Act and have continued to support WS/FCS athletic programs.
“Unbelievably strong. To see Bob and Lisa from when it’s happened, they have been that rock for their family because it would have been so easy to say, ‘why did that happen to us?’ It’s like good things happen to bad people because they’re such wonderful people,” Reynolds Athletic Director Brad Fisher said.
Though many are saddened by the race ending, it is simply opening the door to different ventures. The foundation will be changing gears from the run and focusing more on women’s athletics and their scholarship.
“Matthew used to tell his fellow football players that he would not let them down. Our hope is that the scholarship recipients will carry that philosophy forward as they mature in their lives,” Gfeller said.
Anyone you meet, will have nothing negative to say about Matt Gfeller which is why the run is so close to this community and why keeping his legacy alive is so important.
“We want people to remember because he gave everything, he gave his life,” Fisher said.. “I just hope that kids understand that you might not have known him but he would’ve been your friend because he was that great of a kid.”
Photos from North Carolina Health News and Jones Racing Company