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Travis Landreth competes in a cross country race at Maudslay State Park in September 1993.

NEWBURYPORT – When Newburyport High School’s Class of 1994 gathers today to celebrate its 20-year reunion, one particularly noteworthy graduate won’t be in attendance, but he will be on everyone’s mind.

It’s been 13 years since Travis Landreth collapsed during a training run in Palo Alto, Calif., while preparing for the World Cross Country Championships. The former Clipper standout had become of the best runners in the country, and had it not been for his untimely death, there’s no telling what heights he could have achieved.

Even after all this time, Landreth remains a larger-than-life figure among his former classmates, and when the time came for everyone to get back together, a consensus immediately arose that the class should do something to honor Trav’s memory.

“Everyone said we should do something for Travis,” said Thomasin Bentley, who graduated with Landreth in 1994. “So me and a couple of other people with fundraising experience said we should do whatever we can, and we found out that he has a scholarship in his name and we thought it would be a great way to honor his memory.”

Bentley, along with lead reunion organizer Rachel Cahoon Bishop, fellow classmates Amy-Lynne Cotter, Joseph and Jennifer Fairbanks Moore, and others are working to raise money for the Travis Eliot Landreth Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to runners trying to chase their dream of becoming a better runner. Their goal is to raise $1,500, and so far they’re more than halfway there.

“We’ll raise more at the door and at the reunion, and all of the proceeds will go to help young runners and athletes with training programs and with educational opportunities,” Bentley said. “So the more we can raise the better.”

During his time at Newburyport, Landreth became renowned as one of the best athletes to ever don a Clipper uniform. From 1990 until 1994, he led the team to numerous Cape Ann League titles, and after graduation he went on to star at UConn, where he became the first Big East cross country champion in the school’s history.

Over time, Landreth became famous within the running community for both his exceptional ability and his engaging personality. Those who knew him said that despite his immense talent, he was remarkably humble, and also maintained a drive to improve despite already being so much better than everyone else.

“He was a combination of a naturally gifted, exceptional runner and also a hard worker,” said David Becker, a teammate of Landreth’s on the Newburyport cross country team. “Probably every few years you’ll have someone who is naturally gifted, and you’ll have someone who is a really hard worker, but you rarely get both.”

Landreth was only 24 when he passed away in January of 2001. The cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an excessive thickening of the heart muscle, and when news of his death broke, it rocked Newburyport and the running community as a whole.

“To hear that he passed away as a result of running was so shocking, he was always someone who was dedicated to being fit and competitive, it just didn’t make sense,” Bentley said. “Someone who was so healthy and athletic, that they would die so young, it was devastating for everybody.”

Bentley said that even after she fell out of touch with Landreth, she would still hear stories of his accomplishments from time to time. Even to this day, she said his memory persists around the world in the athletic community.

For instance, she said her job in New York has involved working with sponsors for the New York City Marathon, and during one meeting in 2012 with Senior VPs of a global athletic apparel company, someone asked her where she was from, and when she said Newburyport, the table went silent.

“Newburyport? So you must have known Travis Landreth?” Bentley recalled them saying. “The business meeting was then sidetracked for a conversation sharing stories of Travis’ talent, his unsinkable humor, attitude and strength, the utter tragedy that his dreams were taken from him at the height of his ability.”

Landreth’s name maintains a similar heft within the Newburyport cross country community. Head coach Don Hennigar said he is still a focal point and every kid who runs is well aware of who he was and what he meant to the program.

“Every year we talk about him, and every year we go out to his stone at Maudslay,” Hennigar said. “This past year, the kids made a T-shirt that said Trav’s team, so they’re very much aware of who he is and what he meant.”

The Class of 1994’s reunion will be held tonight at the Elks Hall at 25 Low St. from 6 to 10 p.m., and admission will be $25 per person. To contribute to the Class of 94’s fundraising efforts, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/nhsclassof1994/fundraiser/ThomasinBentley.

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