Teammates mourn Gwinnett athlete drowned in Florida river

7:13 PM, Aug 10, 2012   |    comments
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  • Courtesy of Paola Rivera
  • Courtesy of Paola Rivera
  • Courtesy of Paola Rivera
  • Courtesy of Paola Rivera
  • Courtesy of Paola Rivera

HOSCHTON, Ga. --- A few days after they sent their graduated teammate off to college, he was gone for good. Tajay Hoppines was a cross country and soccer star at Mill Creek High School in Gwinnett. 

He was looking forward to starting college in Valdosta, and had made the trip down last weekend. 

After a run Wednesday with his new teammates in North Florida, they jumped into the Suwannee River for a swim. He tried to cross the river behind them, but he didn't make it.

"The current will fool you," Sheriff Tony Cameron of Suwannee County told 11Alive news. "It looks lazy but it's not."

Hoppines graduated this year from Mill Creek High School after helping two sports teams add trophies to the school's case. Before he left to attend college, he made sure to say goodbye to all of his friends, coaches and former teammates.

"You never know when it's going to be the last time," said Mill Creek soccer coach Sean Garnett. "You just wished you'd said better things to somebody."

Garnett said his three kids loved Hoppines, and so did everyone else. As they practiced Friday, his friends on the cross country team said they were still reeling. They saw him for the final time just last weekend.

"I wish I could have said more to him, spent more time with him there," said senior Britt Hatcher. "I know I was in a hurry to leave, and I just wish I could go back and spend that time with him."

The team has decided to dedicate their upcoming season to him. Coach Andy Christie said he'd been reading a poem of Hoppines' forwarded to him by a teacher. It was posted online, and it talked about racing toward life's finish. Titled "Nile River Run," it starts with an eerie opening, considering the circumstances:

"I run with such speed,
But there was no need,
For I was only enjoying life,
I wanted to cross the Nile,
But the river was too wide."

It goes on to finish:

"Run, run, run, till you reach the end,
For if you don't reach the end,
You will not cross,
If you do not cross,
Life would have been wasted,
So run, run, run, till you have reached the end."

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