Event remembers 1985 ISU women's cross-country team

Current ISU women's cross-country runner Megan Schott carries an ISU flag at the beginning of Wednesday's ceremony, which celebrated the 1985 ISU women's cross-country team. 

A running community gathered Wednesday night to remember both the accomplishments of the 1985 ISU women’s cross-country team and the tragedy that struck the team 30 years ago.

Nov. 25, 2015, marked the 30th anniversary of the team’s runner-up finish at the 1985 NCAA National Cross-Country Meet and the plane that crashed in Des Moines later that night, killing three ISU runners, the head and assistant coaches, a student trainer and the pilot.

The three ISU runners were Sue Baxter, who placed 17th in team scoring and 32nd overall at the national meet among a field of 129 runners; Sheryl Maahs, who finished 29th in team scoring and 45th overall; and Julie Rose, who finished 26th in team scoring and 42nd overall.

The two coaches on board were head coach Ron Renko and assistant coach Pat Moynihan, the student trainer was Stephanie Streit and the pilot was Burton Watkins.

Teammates, friends, family and a former ISU track and cross-country coach provided memories of the team.

Bill Bergan – former ISU track/cross-country coach

Bergan was the coach of the ISU men’s cross-country team in 1985, which finished sixth at the national meet in Madison, Wis.

Bergan was on the second of three planes carrying members of the men’s and women’s cross-country teams back to Iowa that day. The first two planes arrived safely.

“There are no words to describe our reaction when we learned the plight of the third plane,” Bergan said. “The trip back to Ames was everyone was totally silent and we were trying to come to terms with the news that we had just heard.”

Event remembers 1985 ISU women's cross-country team

Former ISU track and cross-country coach Bill Bergan speaks during Wednesday's ceremony in Des Moines. 

Margaret Schiefen – friend of Stephanie Streit

Schiefen said Streit was her best friend since they were 4 years old and that Streit was a natural leader, yet compassionate.

“… [Streit] worked hard,” Schiefen said. “It would have been really easy, particularly as a high school student, it would have been really easy to be jealous of Steph. She was a star at everything that she did.”

Streit did not travel with the cross-country team to Milwaukee and instead took a commercial flight so she could take the MCAT in preparation for a career in medicine. She was on the third plane that crashed in Des Moines.

“ … I heard about the crash but I knew Steph wasn’t on that plane,” Schiefen said. “I kept trying to call her classmates, I tried to call the Streits, I wasn’t getting through anywhere. But I knew she wasn’t on that plane.”

Schiefen said the next day she visited Streit’s parents. She said there was a moment when she got angry and wondered why Streit got on that plane because she wasn’t supposed to be on that plane.

“And then suddenly there was peace with me because I remembered one of Stephanie’s whys,” Schiefen said. She was always full of whys. Why do we do this? Instead, let’s do that. One of her whys was, why do we say, ‘Have a nice day’? Shouldn’t we say, ‘Make it a great day for someone else.’ Think of what the world would be like if each of us just tried to make it great for someone else?

“At that moment, my strength returned, and that was the first moment of the legacy I promised to live for Stephanie — make it great for someone else.”

Ron Maahs – brother of Sheryl Maahs

Ron Maahs used four words to remember his sister Sheryl.

Smile

“[Sheryl Maahs] didn’t necessarily light up the room, like they say, when she walked into it. She really didn’t need that kind of attention,” Ron Maahs said. “When she looked at you and smiled at you, you just felt better.”

Generous

“[Sheryl Maahs] was generous with her support of her friends and pretty much everybody she met, to be honest,” Ron Maahs said. “She’d go out of her way with notes of encouragement.”

Dedicated

“[Sheryl Maahs’] case of dedication led her to restart the girls’ cross-country team at Spirit Lake High School and made her the class valedictorian and led her to Iowa State,” Ron Maahs said. “There were no shortcuts for her on anything. She didn’t cheat on herself.”

Humble

“There was this big picture on the back of the Iowa State Daily with her crossing the finish line in first, and the headline was, ‘Maahzelous,’” Ron Maahs said. “I talked to her about it; she couldn’t be more embarrassed. Other people ran well that day, too.”

Cathy Lynham – teammate of Julie Rose

Lynham said she doesn’t remember what she did last week but remembers everything from 30 years ago as a member of the 1985 ISU women’s cross-country team.

“I still can’t believe that it has been 30 years,” Lynham said. “It just seems to be just last week that I received a letter from [Julie Rose], a couple weeks before she went on the race. She was happy.

‘There are so many things we take for granted that [Rose] didn’t get to do.”

Event remembers 1985 ISU women's cross-country team

The symbol on the bag represents former ISU women's cross-country coach Ron Renko's Cyclone women's running signature. 

Organizers of the event

The event was organized by the Des Moines-based Dam To Dam Planning Committee in partnership with Iowa State University, the Waterbury Neighborhood Association, Temple B’nai Jesurun and members of the Iowa running community.

The Dam to Dam race committee, along with ISU Athletics, the ISU Letterwinners Club, RDG Planning & Design, Temple B’nai Jeshurun and the Waterbury Neighborhood Association want to build a memorial for the victims of the crash across the street from the site of where the plane crashed.

The memorial concluded with attendees placing flowers near the site of the plane crash.

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