‘Unimaginable tragedy’: Holy Cross mourns loss of Grace Rett; fundraiser set up for other rowers injured in fatal crash

"Everyone who knew Grace was touched by her warm heart, tenacious work ethic and inspirational drive."

Vero Beach police and Indian River County Fire Rescue responded to the crash at the base of the Barber Bridge Wednesday in Vero Beach, Fla.
Grace Rett —Courtesy, College of the Holy Cross

Grace Rett, the Holy Cross sophomore who was killed in a horrific traffic accident in Florida Wednesday, had “an undeniable and tenacious passion for rowing,” according to her high school coach, Sean Murphy.

Murphy, varsity crew head coach for Marianapolis Prep, made that statement when Rett committed to College of the Holy Cross, a Division I school. “Grace is the strongest girls’ rower we have ever had at Marianapolis, and this is predominantly the result of her own personal drive,” he said at the time.

It was a winter training trip that led Rett, her Holy Cross rowing teammates, and the team’s coaching staff down to Vero Beach, Florida. There, one of the two vans the team was traveling in collided with a pickup truck while attempting to make a left turn Wednesday morning around 7:30 a.m.,  according to Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey.

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The van involved in the crash had 11 student athletes and a coach inside, Holy Cross Dean of Students Michelle Murray said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Six students and a coach were hospitalized, Murray said. The driver of the pickup truck was also taken to the hospital, she said.

As of around 10 a.m. Thursday, three people involved in the crash were in critical condition, two were in serious condition, and three were in “good” condition, according to Tiffany Woods, a spokesperson for Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida.

“Today, our community is faced with unimaginable tragedy and devastating loss,” Holy Cross Athletic Director Marcus Blossom said in a statement. “Everyone who knew Grace was touched by her warm heart, tenacious work ethic and inspirational drive.

“Our entire Holy Cross community is mourning today, and our focus is on supporting our Crusader students, families, faculty and staff, both here and in Florida,” he said. “Our prayers are with Grace’s family and all those injured in today’s events. We ask for everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”

Blossom, along with college President Rev. Phillip Boroughs, and members of the Holy Cross Office of College Chaplains were headed to Florida Wednesday to be with the team, the statement said.

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It was perhaps that “tenacious work ethic” that drove Rett — who had just turned 20 on Tuesday — to set a new world record for rowing for 62 hours nonstop, an achievement her high school followed and posted about, on Facebook. It was an accomplishment she had just achieved in late December.

“Records are made to be broken,” Rett wrote on Twitter afterward.

Rett was the first Marianapolis student to go on to row in college, the school had said in a news release when Rett committed to Holy Cross. Rett called Holy Cross her “dream school.” 

At Holy Cross, Rett was majoring in English and psychology, according to her student athlete profile on the Worcester-based college’s website.

The names of others involved in the crash have not been released by college officials.

The Holy Cross men’s rowing team has set up a GoFundme online fundraiser to help cover medical expenses for the women’s rowing team. As of around 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, it had raised nearly $102,000, already beyond its initial goal of $100,000.

While some comments on the donations indicated they were from Holy Cross, or its alumnae, donations also came in from Vero Beach.

“We are saddened by the loss of Grace Rett and the injuries sustained by her fellow team members,” the comment from one such donation said.

Others came in from rowing athletes from other colleges and universities.

“Sending love and prayers of healing to my fellow rowers. Stay strong!” a comment accompanying a donation from a University of Tennessee rower said.

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