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December 07, 2016
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In loving memory

Jessica Fingers
Photo by Richard A. Ross,

MONTICELLO, NY — Spring signifies the revival and affirmation of life. As Robert Frost noted in his poem, The Onset, “Winter has never tried/The earth but it has failed.” Even the harshest of winters like the one we just endured cannot stop the resurgence of spring’s colorful splendor. Every year no matter how long or unshakeable the winter may seem, nature’s remarkable palette transforms the bleakness that preceded it.

Similarly, the beauty and resonance of a remarkable life cannot be obviated, not even by an untimely passing. To the legions of people who knew, admired and adored Jessica Fingers, her spirit shines on as an “Eternal Light,” the title of a piece I dedicated to her memory following her death at the age of 21 on March 31, 2013. That elegy along with the picture of her graceful run alongside Hessian Lake at Bear Mountain sits above my desk. She is always with me, especially whenever I am around runners as I remember her grace and strength from the innumerable races in fall, winter and spring in which I photographed her, as well as the stories I wrote in which she was so often featured. That story can be read online at

In her honor, the Monticello School district has renamed the renowned Monticello Games as the Jessica Fingers Memorial Invitational. The “Games of Fame,” which I have dubbed the great track and field meet, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. But henceforth the games will bear her name. Jessica went on to prestigious Columbia University, but she will always be remembered for her remarkable career at Monticello. A plaque in her honor will be attached to a fence adjacent to the track, the site of so many of her sterling moments. A remarkable athlete to be sure, Jessica was so much more. As noted in the aforementioned elegy, the 2009 Monticello graduate was a “Mayor’s Cup winner, runner extraordinaire, champion, teammate, leader, role model, brilliant student, possessor of a captivating smile and aura, daughter, sister and to countless legions of us, an enduring friend.” The shock of her death at such a tender age was a huge blow to those of us who knew and loved her.

But now, one year later, this event marks the celebration of her life and spirit. Her sister Jaclyn will sing the National Anthem at the noontime dedication ceremony. A tree will be planted in her memory and several speakers will be on hand to remember Jessica from their own unique perspectives. The track meet, which begins at 9 a.m., will feature its usual array of outstanding runners, jumpers and throwers hailing from schools across the region. And as I watch and photograph the runners racing around that storied track, I will envision Jessica Sarah Lightheart leading the pack ablaze in her royal blue and white uniform. This year’s cadre of runners will follow in her footsteps and those who can emulate her perseverance, strength and spirit may indeed achieve the satisfaction and success that comes from striving against the rigors of the run and the daunting competition. And as they do, they will be building within themselves the fortitude to face life’s adversity, whatever form that might take.

For photos from the Jessica Fingers Memorial Invitational, visit The story of the meet, as well as other narratives of local sports, can be found at