Although all of the more than 250 runners had completed the course ahead of her, Queena wasn’t deterred from crossing the finish line in a personal victory.
With caregivers and family pushing her modified wheelchair, Queena smiled as she passed under the finish line banner for the second “5K4Q” road race held at E.G. Simmons Park. Sponsored by the East Bay High School Student Government Association, the fundraiser was held to help cover medical expenses for Queena, a former East Bay student brutally attacked and raped outside the Bloomingdale Regional Library five years ago.
The race and one-mile fun run along with a silent auction and sponsorships generated about $7,925 for Queena, now 23, said race coordinator Michelle Berland, East Bay Student Government Association president. She said she expects the final tally to be about $8,500.
In 2012, about 200 runners generated about $4,000.
Under a sunny sky and in a slight, warm bay breeze, participants were on the course by 9 a.m., running to place, better their times or just join a worthwhile cause.
“I wanted to do this because it’s such a great cause,” said Michael Bishop, a15-year-old East Bay freshman, who finished the 5K run in 22 minutes, 50 seconds. “It’s a good time, too, and it was very important to me to get involved.”
Riverview’s Benjamin Mena, 29, placed first in the 5K with a time of 17 minutes, 52 seconds.
In 2008, Queena – who decided to release her first name to the public a few weeks ago -- was a senior at East Bay High about to graduate and attend the University of Florida on a full scholarship. She was attacked at the library while returning books, leaving her unable to walk, talk, see or eat on her own. The attacker, Kendrick Morris, is now serving a 65-year prison term.
Queena takes part in physical therapy every day to gain strength. Medicaid pays for part of her expenses, but she needs thousands of dollars more every week and her family depends on donations to keep the therapy going.
After the run, between sips of water from a bottle, runner Bonnie Harris, an East Bay health and physical education teacher, said she knew Queena from class before the attack. She said she was very close to Queena and her fellow student friends and was enthralled by how the community responded to help her.
“I would do anything for her; she was funny, smart and had a great personality. This was super important to me,” she said.
The race had major sponsors, including the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, Kids R Kids SouthShore and Brandon Regional Hospital. Altogether, 27 student government volunteers and others from East Bay's National Honor Society helped coordinate race day.
A website for Queena – www.joinqueena.com -- was established and donated by Full Media of Gainesville, Ga. According to the website, as of May, her eye doctor, Nathan Bonilla-Warford, reported Queena has severe visual problems due to her head injuries during the accident, but in the time that he has worked with her, he’s seen slow but steady progress with improvement in strength and posture due to the additional therapies.