Mother of Car-Wreck Victim Hopes Book will Inspire Others to ‘Just Finish the Race’

June 21, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Dealing with the pain and anger surrounding the death of her mother, University of South Carolina Upstate student Morgan Cierra Lipsey turned to a slender book, written and published by USC Upstate alumna Laurie Lee ’04, about her own journey through grief and loss.

Lee’s “Just Finish the Race: A Testimony of a Mother’s Love to Finish her Son’s Race,” is a tribute to Josh Lee, the author’s son, who was one of four USC Upstate athletes killed in a 2015 car wreck. The book changed Lipsey’s life, she said recently.

“This book made me think about everything in a new way,” the sophomore nursing major said.

While Morgan’s story was in many ways the opposite of Lee’s, both women had to deal with overwhelming grief. Morgan said she had helped care for her mother during a two-year illness that began during the teenager’s senior year of high school. It was a time of repeated hospitalizations for her mom, and that ordeal took its on toll on the young woman.

Then her mother died.

“I was the one who found my mother,” Lipsey recalled. “I thought I was alone and no one knew what I was feeling. And I thought that no one would understand and nobody knew what it was like to witness something like that, and everything I went through. Then I read [Lee’s] book, and it changed me because I realized I wasn’t alone, and that others were going through something like I was.”

While Lee said she wrote “Just Finish the Race” as a tribute to her son, a student-athlete on the USC Upstate cross-country team prior to his death, she said she was also gratified that Lipsey had found solace in her poems and prose.

“It’s changed her life because she’s realized that yes, we’re going to go through hardships in life like we did when we lost Josh, and you have to overcome it,” Lee said. “Everybody on this entire planet, every time you wake up in the morning, you have a race to run, and that race is called life, and you have to learn how to move forward and persevere against tragedies.”

That fatal, single-car wreck in the early-morning hours of Oct. 11, 2015, also claimed the lives of three other USC Upstate students: Horace Miller “Mills” Sproull IV, 20, of Birmingham, Alabama; James Robert Campbell, 21, of Greenville; and Sarah Grace Vande Berg, 21, of Zephyrhills, Florida.

Lipsey said Josh Lee’s life had another powerful effect on her. Because of Josh, whom she had also known when the two were students at Spartanburg’s Broome High School, Lipsey said she decided to attend USC Upstate.

Through her book, Lee said she hopes to help others like Lipsey realize that life has to go on, even in the face of tragedy.

“My goal for this book is not only to honor Josh so people can see that Josh was a real person who changed lives in the 20 years he was here,” she said, “but also my book is [changing] lives, letting people know that yes, we can move forward. Grief is hard. It’s hard to live through. … This is what my mission, my passion is now.”

As a part of the healing process, Lee said she is pleased to have a book signing slated for June 28 at the Hub City Bookshop. Lee has also shared her testimony with local churches and has been invited to speak to a wide range of community groups.

“I’m very excited about the book signing,” she said. “When you read the book, you feel like you’re standing beside me on this journey. … You can see how I transformed into a person determined to keep these four athletes’ legacies alive, and how you can overcome: Just finish your own race. That’s what I want people to get out of this book.”

There’s another goal for the book as well, Lee said: All proceeds from book sales will go to the Josh Lee Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to student-athletes on the track and cross-country teams.

Meet the Author

Laurie Lee will be signing her book, “Just Finish the Race: A Testimony of a Mother’s Love to Finish her Son’s Race,” at 5:30 p.m. on June 28 at the Hub City Bookshop, Masonic Temple, 186 W. Main St., Spartanburg. Copies of the book will be available at the bookstore.