Never forget where you came from.
It's a piece of advice often handed down in life. A piece of advice that reminds us no matter where we go in the world, we always have roots back home.
Diane Peacock knows this lesson. Although she wanted to travel from a young age, and has done just that since graduating high school, Peacock has never forgotten where she came from, and what Bennington did to mold her perspective on life.
As a 15-year-old at Mount Anthony Union High School, Peacock got the opportunity to travel to Germany on an exchange program. Furiously saving up pennies and dimes from odd jobs, Peacock made the journey and came back a changed person.
She wanted to travel, and she wanted to do it a lot.
When she lost two of her friends from the soccer team, Maria Greene and Brandy Brown, shortly after returning from Germany, that urge only intensified.
Now, some 20 years later, Peacock is still traveling, still seeing what the world has to offer her. It's led her to create a blog, www.bluelollipoproad.com (BLR), that details her adventures. Her journey has landed her in the pages of Forbes Magazine and in all 50 states plus another 13 countries. But that urge has also brought her back to where she started. It has brought her back to help remember the people that helped shape her crazy life.
Peacock, now 36, is in town this week for her Play it Forward event, a weekend-long program hosted by BLR that brings back MAU soccer alumni to unite the past with the present. Starting with a reception today and stretching to a soccer game on Saturday at Howard Park, Peacock came up with the idea with the help of Kate Emma Adams (Schlosser) and Traci Molloy. The idea of the weekend was simple in theory -- honor their two friends by providing a travel scholarship to a current MAU soccer player.
In the first year of the weekend, the date fell on the anniversary of Brown and Greene passing. The date has been moved up since, but Peacock's message is still the same.
"I didn't really want to [write about myself] as much as encourage other kids from small towns to get out and see the world," Peacock said. "[Travel] and team sport and all that camaraderie and friendship, those are the things that developed me."
Now, after countless hours organizing, planning, and executing the weekend, Peacock has found traction.
And it's a traction that I hope Peacock keeps going.
The activities themselves, scholarship aside, are worth having in the town. The people that Play it Forward has brought back to the area provides a perfect snapshot of what young women in the town can do. A small portion of attendees include Shelly (Addison) Smith, the women's soccer coach at South Caroline, Jessie Donovan, an ironman athlete, and Nicole Levesque, a former WNBA player. The alumni game also celebrates 28 years of MAU girls soccer, and the reception dinner on the first day of the weekend, this time at Ramunto's starting at 7 p.m., allows families of the soccer players, and other alumni, to get together.
"It's to see old friends, honor lost friends and really promote staying healthy and active," Peacock said. "I want to see this thing as an event when you can see your teammates from different classes. Not just a dinner at a banquet hall."
And while the alumni game and the reception bring a significant meaning to the weekend, it's the scholarship that highlights the purpose of Peacock's mission.
Even in brief descriptions of her two lost friends, Peacock talks about their vibrancy and zest for the world. The characteristics are similar to Peacock's.
Which is why the scholarship is specifically for traveling. Peacock's idea wasn't to help girls staying inside their comfort zone -- it was to push them to go further.
In an interview with the Banner during the first year of the event, Peacock said that "a lot of kids don't have the money to travel. This can put them in the right direction."
And it is a direction worth traveling.
In 2012, Play it Forward gave scholarships to Hannah Patterson and Raheemah Madany, allowing both to travel to Nicaragua with the school. In 2013, Mercedes Chen was able to take the same trip.
This year, another MAU girls soccer player will be selected. Another life will be drastically altered and given a new perspective. For all of the alumni that come back for Saturday's game, getting out and seeing the world has helped lead them to their successful lives. Peacock's hope is that, by handing out the scholarships, a new generation of girls can do the same thing.
Peacock dreams of expanding the event, from making the MAU scholarship bigger and available to more athletes, to bringing the scholarship to different schools around the country. While being able to give the scholarship to an MAU student has been rewarding, she wants to see this project continue to grow.
On Peacock's left wrist there is a simple, yet poignant, tattoo. It is a blue lollipop on a white stem, sandwiched between two words -- Strong Mojo.
Both the symbol and the words come from her time as a Patriot soccer player. The lollipop a literal symbol of post-game fun on the bus, the saying a turn-of-phrase by Molloy. The tattoo serves as a reminder for Peacock. It's a reminder to not be scared of her journey, and to trust in what she is doing.
But it also reminds her of where she comes from. Traveling might be Peacock's favorite part of life, but she'll never forget what Bennington did to mold her life.
Let's hope that's a gift she can keep passing on.
For more information on Play it Forward or BLR, visit Peacock's website at www.bluelollipoproad.com. Saturday's alumni game will be at Howard Park. To register for the game the day of, arrive at Howard Park at 12:30 p.m. The game will start at 2 p.m, and spectators are encouraged. Friday's reception at Ramunto's is open to the community and will start at 7 p.m., a portion of the proceeds will go toward the scholarship.
Geoff Smith is the assistant sports editor at the Bennington Banner. He can be reached at 802-447-7567, ext. 120, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @GSmith_Banner.