LINCOLNTON, N.C.––The third annual Kandace Helms Memorial Five-K and Fun Run is coming up soon.
Organized by the Kandace Helms Foundation, the five-kilometer (a distance just more than three miles) event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 8:30 a.m. at Betty Ross Park in Lincolnton, according to Danny Long. The foundation’s head, Long is also the father of the late local runner, who died in a car crash some three and a half years ago.
“I still struggle to talk about the accident and everything that has occurred since,” he told The Herald this week, speaking lovingly of his late daughter. “Kandace was very blessed to have a close group of friends. They were actually the ones instrumental in getting the five-K event up and running.”
One such dear friend is Amy Fincannon. A Denver native who now resides in Vale, Fincannon is handling public relations for the five-K, and she told The Herald more on Friday.
“Kandace was killed in March, 2016, when she was hit head-on by an impaired driver on NC-150, while she was taking her oldest son, Peyton, to school,” she revealed. “She was killed instantly, while Mason, her youngest son, was injured the most, and Peyton, who was sitting in the back on the passenger side of the van, sustained more minor injuries but was able to exit the van and run for help. Plenty of people were stopping and luckily got to him very quickly and got Mason out of the van. He was in a car seat.”
Helms was only 32 years old.
“She was exactly where she would have chosen to be, in between danger and her boys,” Fincannon observed. “When I try to think of ways to describe her, the first word that comes to me is ‘love.’ She just had it for everyone but especially for her two boys and her husband, Matt. Being a mommy was her calling, and she did it so well. Kandace was also kind, gentle-hearted and compassionate. She was fiercely loyal and loved Jesus. Her faith was one of the most important things to her, and she instilled that love of Jesus Christ in her boys. She also had a laugh that was infectious that I can still here now, as clear as if she were sitting beside me. She could light up your day with that laugh alone.”
She also cited others amongst a host of friends Helms enjoyed. Helms knew Etta Tucker from their pre-school days. Fincannon pointed out that she herself actually came along last. And Kim Ferrell rounded out their little foursome of fast friends.
“As adults,” Fincannon said, “we found a refuge in one another: four women who had each other’s backs at any time. We loved each other through boyfriends, marriages, births and a divorce. The four of us, after a girl’s night out together, jokingly called ourselves unicorns after watching a funny You-Tube video about women.”
After seeing it, the four women laughed until they cried. They called themselves the Unicorn Squad. After Helms’s death, the surviving three went out and got matching unicorn tattoos on their wrists in memory of their late friend.
“Kandace was a runner,” Fincannon recalled. “I remember her telling us that she even got up on the morning of her wedding and went to the Y in Lincolnton to run on the treadmill. It centered her. I think she got fussed at that day for doing it, because what if she had twisted an ankle and fallen that morning?”
Fincannon laughed at the memory of this.
“The four of us were together when I ran my first five-K in 2015,” she recalled. “Kandace was by my side the entire time, even though she easily could have sped up. We all crossed that finish line together that night, and we had a blast!”
Gone but never forgotten
The death of someone so special always leaves a hole in people’s lives that’s impossible to fill, as Fincannon noted.
“I’m not sure I could even describe to you how much Kandace is missed, especially by her parents, Danny and Tammie Long, and her sister, Sarah Long,” she said. “Kandace and Sarah were very close sisters and loved each other fiercely. Grief is just a form of love. It never goes away.”
Fincannon credited Tucker with originating the idea for the five-K event back in 2016.
“We wanted to do something that would keep Kandace’s memory alive but also help the kids and community she loved,” Fincannon said. “Kandace was the ultimate dugout mom for the Boger City Optimist Club, where Peyton and now Mason play baseball. She was also on the board for the Optimist Club. We decided to have the five-K as a way to support the BCO and the boys.