Maribel Sanchez Souther '96 remembered for vivacious spirit

by Kristine Jiwoo Ahn | 1/13/17 2:40am

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Maribel Sanchez Souther '96, who passed away on Dec. 31 2016, stands with her husband and children.

Source: Courtesy of John Souther

Maribel Sanchez Souther ’96 knew that there were no shortcuts in life, that if you wanted something, you had to work for it, said her former cross country teammate and long time friend Kristin McGee ’96.

A Dartmouth runner, coach and mother of three, Souther passed away on Dec. 31, 2016 at the age of 41 after fighting cancer.

Born into a family of five children of Dominican parents in Washington Heights, New York, Souther began running competitively at the age of seven through her neighborhood running team.

“She went to her first running practice in jeans,” her husband John Souther recalled, citing a story told by her siblings. “She really just wanted to make friends in the neighborhood.”

Maribel Souther attended Yorktown High School, where she developed a passion for distance running and excelled in cross country and track.

While at Dartmouth, Souther was a member of the women’s cross country and track and field teams, where she was a four-time All-American and seven-time Ivy League Heptagonal Champion. She was honored as Dartmouth’s outstanding female athlete in 1996.

Barry Harwick ’77, the head coach of Dartmouth men’s cross country and track teams, said that Maribel Souther was certainly one of the best runners the College has ever had.

She was known by many of her teammates for exemplifying the perfect balance between being serious when it counted and knowing how to let go and have fun.

“She could be very fierce and competitive when she had to be, but she also knew how to be light, very funny, and have a good time with the ordinary things,” McGee said. “She thought that whatever had to be done, we might as well make it fun.”

Deirdre Shearer ’98, who ran with Souther during and after college, echoed McGee’s sentiment when she said that Maribel Souther taught her a lot about being a student athlete at Dartmouth, such as how to let go and enjoy life rather than trying to do everything perfectly.

After graduation, Souther pursued a professional running career in Boston and qualified for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials, though an injury prevented her from competing. She then returned to Dartmouth as an assistant coach in 2002 and served as the head cross country and assistant track coach from 2003 to 2010.

“When recruits visited, she was the one they wanted to emulate — they wanted to come to Dartmouth because they wanted to become like her,” said Ellen O’Neil ’87, Souther’s coach, mentor, colleague and friend. “She was very humble, successful, gracious, competitive — just a really good person.”

She met her husband John Souther through mutual friends. The two started their family in Hanover and had three children: Jackson (8), Paco (6) and Christine (2).

Maribel Souther always worked hard to ensure her kids had the best life experience possible growing up in a college town, John Souther said.

“Maribel as a mom was a wonderful, fun thing to watch because she put everything into her three children,” Dartmouth women’s track and field head coach Sandra Ford-Centonze said. Harwick described Souther as someone who made friends wherever she went by taking a genuine interest in others’ lives.

Her friend Alicia Przydzielski agreed, saying, “She knew the right things to say to uplift your spirit. She does kind things, subtle compliments — a thank you card or an encouragement that resonate with people. It’s the little things — but those are special characteristics that not everyone has.”

Przydzielski, a nurse practitioner at a Dartmouth Hitchcock clinic in Lebanon, New Hampshire, said that Souther inspired her to be a more active mother and community participant. As Przydzielski’s and Souther’s eldest sons are friends, they would regularly explore different hikes or swim at the local lakes together.

Maribel Souther always pushed her community to attend Dartmouth sports events, Przydzielski said.

Shearer said that she will remember Souther for her spirit of bringing people together.

“She was just one of those teammates in it for every single person on the team,” she said.

“Whatever community she was part of, she became a big part of it and she stayed part of it,” McGee said, describing how Maribel Souther kept in touch with teammates and athletes for a long time after college and her time coaching them.

“I think she really showed what being a part of the Dartmouth track and field family is,” Ford-Centonze said.

Besides the Dartmouth running program, Souther was greatly involved in expanding the foreign language program at the local Bernice A. Ray School to bring Spanish to the younger students. She was also a part of the fundraising committee of the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont, helping with its annual fundraising auction as late as this past spring.

“She had a fun, loving zest for life,” John Souther said. “Meeting Maribel was a pivotal event in my life that set my life in the direction that it did. I certainly wouldn’t be living here, wouldn’t have tried cross country skiing, wouldn’t have visited the Dominican Republic, wouldn’t have a son named Paco … I can’t imagine my life without [her].”

Shearer remembered how Souther never backed down from any kind of challenge, whether it was a race or a time to beat. She recalled a camping trip when people were cliff jumping into the water. Though Souther at first backed out on the jump, it was the first thing she did the next morning.

“She couldn’t sleep all night because she had to do it,” Shearer said. “She was like that with everything. She was always challenging herself. She had these goals and had to accomplish them.”

O’Neil recalled Souther’s standout race during her senior year.

“I was thinking she should start out [the race] around 30th place and then work her way up during the last mile to go up to 20th, but she told me that she would like to go out with the lead group and try to hang on,” O’Neil said. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s not quite what I had in mind but you’re a senior, you should have a right to go through with your plan.’ And she did hang onto that group — it was a really hard fought race, and not a minute of it was comfortable for her. But she did hang on. That was the highest finish for a Dartmouth runner at that time.”

O’Neil said that she sees a lot of parallels between that standout race and Souther’s fight with cancer. Her tough mindset meant she would fight as hard as she could for as long as she could bear it.

Souther’s husband worked with the development office at Dartmouth to establish a scholarship in her memory called The Maribel Sanchez Souther 1996 Memorial Scholarship Fund. Gifts to the scholarship fund will support financial aid, particularly for minority track and field or cross country athletes at Dartmouth.

“Maribel’s ability to come to Dartmouth was made possible very much by scholarship and financial aid so [John Souther] wanted to honor her with the legacy of a scholarship at Dartmouth,” said Ann Root Keith, chief operating officer for advancement at the College.

A funeral mass was held on Jan. 7 with calling hours on Jan. 6 at Saint Denis Catholic Church in Hanover. An informal fun run was held on Jan. 7 on the Green.

“One thing that really stood out to me was how the Hanover community really rallied around [Souther] and supported her for the past two and a half years,” O’Neil said. “After she passed away, people flew in from all over the country on very short notice. I was awestruck by that. I think that’s a testament to the community but to her as well. She touched a lot of people, whether locally or from afar.”

Maribel is survived by her husband John; children Jackson, Paco and Christine; parents Maria and Silvio; and siblings Bernadette, Jennifer and Silvio.

“I think she would want people to remember the fun times they had, the laugher they shared, the little things — the conversations they had over coffee, a picnic or an outing they may have had together or a moment when their kids were laughing together,” Przydzielski said.

John Souther is the investment manager for The Dartmouth, Inc.