Valdosta Daily Times

October 5, 2013

Swim event supports James Eunice Charity Fund

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Families devastated by the loss of a child grieve in different ways, but they always have one thing in common — their lives will never be the same.

John Eunice quotes his wife. “Tammy always says, ‘You don’t choose what happens to you, but you do choose how you react.’ She wants to be able to say when she goes to heaven that she didn’t waste a thing she was given. Neither did James.”

The Eunices’ son, James, died in a boating accident while hunting in January 2011. At 17, James was a senior at Valdosta High School with aspirations to play football at the University of Georgia, where he was heading the next fall. UGA Coach Mark Richt honored the family at James’ funeral with a UGA jersey and continues to honor him by keeping his name on the team roster in his memory.

Despite the loss of the youngest of their three children, the Eunices began looking for ways to celebrate their son’s life. A typical boy with loads of energy, James was also very forthright in his beliefs.

“James would want us to share what he shared — to love God and love others unconditionally.”

The Eunices began raising funds for dive suits for the sheriff’s department by holding cookouts at Sam’s Club every weekend, and after meeting their initial goal, began setting many others.

The James Eunice Charity Fund has donated $200,000 to date, with no plans to stop. The family presented a check to the Boys and Girls Club for $500 to provide training for the staff on defibrillators to assist children in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest. Through the fund, the family has provided 47 scholarships at five high schools — Valdosta, Valwood, Lowndes, Brooks and Thomasville. They have also given to many charitable organizations, including That Others May Live foundation, which raises money to assist the families of PJs, or pararescue jumpers, who die on active duty in the Air Force.

“It was PJs from Moody who found James,” says Eunice. The sheriff’s department did not have the cold water dive suits necessary but the Air Force did. PJs volunteered to help locate James’ body in Ocean Pond.

Eunice is retired from the Air Force, and the support of their military family along with friends made traveling the world from base to base have helped sustain them since James’ death. But the biggest blessings have come from former strangers; people who feel compelled to volunteer and support the various fundraising efforts.

TCT7: The Clock is Ticking 7 Mile Swim

On Sept. 18, the Second Annual TCT7, or The Clock is Ticking 7 Mile Swim held at Long Pond in Lake Park raised $6,000 for the fund.

The swim is named for a poem James wrote a year before his death, following the death of a fellow student. He titled it, “The Clock is Ticking,” and through the poem, James urges others to not let a day pass wasted, to glorify God by doing his work, and to remember that “Judgment is a heart beat away.”

Thirty-one swimmers participated in the event, with 18 in the one-mile swim, seven in the seven mile, three in the 3.5 mile and three in the 2.4 mile.

John and Tammy swam the one-mile, and volunteers from across the community and the sheriff’s department assisted by escorting swimmers in kayaks, boats and on paddle boards.

The last swimmer to finish, 22-year-old Audrey Goodale, completed the seven-mile swim in five hours, 13 minutes, and 19 seconds.

“Her father deployed the week before, and she wanted to do this for him. Her mother and grandmother were waiting for her at the finish and her mother had her Dad on the phone while they were cheering her on through that last stretch. Several volunteers escorted her in, encouraging her along the way. It was very touching, and very emotional,” said Eunice.

The family will be making additional donations from the money raised through the event, and Eunice said he is especially grateful for the many sponsors and volunteers.