'We're able to honor her memory': Athletic, education center at Uxbridge school dedicated to Grace Rett

·5 min read
People tour the new Grace Rett Athletic Complex and Education Center, or G.R.A.C.E. Center, Sunday on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge.
People tour the new Grace Rett Athletic Complex and Education Center, or G.R.A.C.E. Center, Sunday on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge.

UXBRIDGE — After 20-year-old Grace Rett's death in 2020, the principal at her elementary and middle school, Our Lady of the Valley Regional School (OLV), reached out to her family with an idea to honor the student-athlete's life: a gymnasium on campus called the Grace Rett Athletic Complex and Education Center, or the G.R.A.C.E. Center for short.

"I remember the day she called and I was just overwhelmed," Grace's mother, Mary Jo Rett, said. "I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it."

OLV has been without a gym since before Grace attended school there and went on to graduate high school and attend the College of the Holy Cross, where she was a member of the women's rowing team when she died.

OLV students would have gym class and play sports outside, off campus, or even in the cafeteria. When Grace started playing for OLV's basketball team, she would talk to her family about the necessity of building a gym at the school.

The brand new gymnasium at the G.R.A.C.E. Center on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge.
The brand new gymnasium at the G.R.A.C.E. Center on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge.

"They always talked about having a gym but it was never feasible financially," Mary Jo said. "Then when Grace passed they really wanted to get it done. They asked about naming it for her and it kind of just took off from there."

Since 2020, the Retts, OLV, and members of the HC rowing program have raised over $3.7 million for the gymnasium, Mary Jo said, with donations pouring in from across the country and from their own supportive community.

Now the G.R.A.C.E. Center is opening in Grace's memory.

A ribbon-cutting and blessing ceremony was held Sunday afternoon on OLV's campus, where Grace's friends, college teammates, family, OLV classmates and donors were invited for a first tour of the gymnasium.

OLV will hold an open house for the local parishes and schoolkids, plus another open house next Sunday for other friends who could not attend this weekend's event.

Diocese of Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus blesses the G.R.A.C.E. Center during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sunday on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge, as the Rett family, right, looks on.
Diocese of Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus blesses the G.R.A.C.E. Center during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sunday on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge, as the Rett family, right, looks on.

The ceremony began with a Mass led by Diocese of Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus, followed by the ribbon-cutting by Grace's sister, Brianne.

"Everybody’s so excited," Mary Jo said. "Everybody that came through today, they couldn’t believe how big it is. The actual gymnasium part is huge but then there are also two classrooms, and a lot of people were commenting on the personal touches."

Hanging from the gym's ceiling are Grace's rowing oars. Photos of Grace and inspirational quotes embellish the walls.

A pair of racing oars used by Grace Rett hang from the gym's ceiling.
A pair of racing oars used by Grace Rett hang from the gym's ceiling.

A mural designed by Brianne is painted in the gym, showing a map of Grace's life along with words inscribed in her handwriting.

"People were amazed by the personal touches of it and how Grace was just kind of there," Mary Jo said.

Grace died Jan. 15, 2020, the day after her birthday, in a van crash in Florida while on a training trip with her teammates and coaches.

Less than a month before her passing, Grace set a world indoor rowing record by rowing continuously for 62 hours, 3 seconds, as a sophomore at Holy Cross.

Shea Kirby was one of Grace's rowing teammates who was in the van during the crash.

"She was incredible," Kirby said. "She was so much more than just a teammate. She was the first one to say congratulations after something good, or a great shoulder to cry on when something bad happened.

"If someone needed anything, or needed someone to go to the gym with them she would be the first one to volunteer even if she worked out three times already that day."

A photo Grace Rett inside the athletic complex and education center named in her honor on the campus Our Lady of the Valley Regional School on Mendon Street in Uxbridge.
A photo Grace Rett inside the athletic complex and education center named in her honor on the campus Our Lady of the Valley Regional School on Mendon Street in Uxbridge.

Kirby, now a senior at Holy Cross, said she knew Grace from the first day of freshman year of college until the accident.

"Grace loved working out," Kirby recalled. "Not just working out, but sharing working out with people she loves and cares about. And I can tell you she’d love seeing this. She loved the OLV community so much when she was alive, and I think she’d be so incredibly happy right now that these children are able to experience a gym."

She said seeing the completed gym showed her that Grace's legacy will live on for decades, which to Kirby was both an "indescribable feeling" but also comforting.

In addition to basketball, the lifelong athlete ran cross-country at OLV before taking on rowing in high school and college.

A state-of-art classroom at the G.R.A.C.E. Center.
A state-of-art classroom at the G.R.A.C.E. Center.

At her sister's eulogy, Brianne said "basketball was Grace's first love, but rowing was her soulmate."

The event brought back the memories of Grace's life, creating an air of loss but also remembrance. Kirby said the mood at the event was somber but also spread feelings of rebirth and renewal.

"We weren't just able to mourn her, we were able to carry her legacy on with us," she said. "We're able to honor her memory. I think that's the best thing about this. The entire community stepped in to honor Grace, and really embody what she represented."

Added Mary Jo: "I feel kind of a peace actually. It was a lot of work, it was emotional, and now we get to sit back and watch the kids enjoy it.

"Plus we live right down the street, so that’ll be nice to just watch them use the space and the classrooms too. It’s really going to be great for them."

The Grace Rett Athletic Complex and Education Center, or G.R.A.C.E. Center, opened Sunday with a ribbon-cutting and blessing ceremony on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge. The center is dedicated to Grace Rett, who attended OLV as a youngster and was a member of the Holy Cross women's rowing team at the time of her tragic death two years ago. It was a dream of hers that the school build a gymnasium of its own, which was made possible through fundraising by the school, the community and her HC teammates.
The Grace Rett Athletic Complex and Education Center, or G.R.A.C.E. Center, opened Sunday with a ribbon-cutting and blessing ceremony on the campus of Our Lady of the Valley Regional School in Uxbridge. The center is dedicated to Grace Rett, who attended OLV as a youngster and was a member of the Holy Cross women's rowing team at the time of her tragic death two years ago. It was a dream of hers that the school build a gymnasium of its own, which was made possible through fundraising by the school, the community and her HC teammates.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Uxbridge school's first athletic complex dedicated to Holy Cross rower Grace Rett