“Utter shock” rippled across the College of the Holy Cross campus in Worcester, Mass. as students and faculty learned of the tragic Florida crash that took the life of star rower Grace Rett and injured 13 others Wednesday morning.
“Grace was a light to all who knew her,” an emotional Dean of Students Michele Murray told reporters on campus Wednesday. “She was incredibly passionate and hardworking.”
Rett, a sophomore on the women’s rowing team who had just turned 20, was killed when a passenger van carrying some of the Holy Cross rowers and their coach was struck by a pickup truck in Vero Beach, Fla., at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.
As word spread of the tragedy, school officials gathered with several hundred students inside the campus athletic complex to process the “terrible shock” of losing one of their own.
“The reaction has been exactly what you would think — utter shock and disbelief and an incredibly generous outpouring of love and support,” Murray said.
Holy Cross said six students and the team coach remained hospitalized as of Wednesday night, and were being treated at two local hospitals for varying levels of injuries, Murray said Wednesday afternoon.
Rett was sitting in the front passenger seat of the van, which sustained the most damage in the crash. The van was one of two carrying team members and staff who were visiting the area for winter training.
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said he believed Rett had been wearing a seat belt. The crash remains under investigation. No charges had been filed Wednesday afternoon.
Rett, the daughter of Christopher and Mary Jo Rett, was a member of the college’s class of 2022, studying English and psychology, according to her biography on the college’s athletics website.
“Today our community is faced with unimaginable tragedy and devastating loss,” Holy Cross Athletic Director Marcus Blossom said. “Everyone who knew Grace was touched by her warm heart, tenacious work ethic and inspirational drive.”
The Uxbridge, Mass. native had recently set a world record for continuous rowing, clocking in at 62 hours and 3 seconds.
“She was just the nicest person ever,” her freshman-year roommate, Kelsey O’Hara, said.
The two student-athletes quickly bonded over their rigorous schedules.
“Before my track meets she would write little notes and hide them in my track bag,” O’Hara said, breaking down into tears. “She would message my family on Instagram to find out the different kinds of snacks and candy I like and put them in there, too.”
The college’s president, athletic director and representatives of the Office of College Chaplains traveled to Florida Wednesday to support the rowing team. Rett’s family was traveling with them, Murray said.
Chaplains and counselors are being made available to Holy Cross students and staff. A vigil in honor of Rett will be held next week, when students return from winter break.
Rett’s passing also sent waves of grief across the rowing community, drawing an outpouring of support from crew programs throughout the region and beyond.
Rett “made a tremendous and lasting impact” at Marianapolis Preparatory School in Connecticut, where she still holds the 2,000- and 6,000-meter erg records, the school said in a statement to the Herald. “Grace and the entire Rett family remain in our prayers.”