When Brittany Pryor helped Virginia Tech's women's track and field team win the indoor Atlantic Coast Conference championship last winter, it was a monumental feat for the program because it was the school's first ACC title in any women's sport.
The Niagara Falls High School graduate and her Hokies teammates figured it would be a challenge to win the conference's outdoor title as well, because there are more events during the spring season to truly test a team's depth.
She also figured that would be the reason winning the outdoor championship would be even sweeter than capturing the indoor one, because the team would have successfully passed a test of its athletic mettle while announcing the program's arrival as an ACC power.
But when Pryor helped Virginia Tech win the ACC outdoor championship last weekend at the University of Maryland, the victory proved to be even more immense than anyone could have anticipated before the start of the spring season.
The triumph became part of the healing process for a campus filled with students whose lives have been forever changed by the events of April 16, the day Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members on the Blacksburg, Va., campus in the deadliest shooting rampage in United States history.
"We wanted to show how resilient Virginia Tech is . . . that we were pulling together and that we were strong," said Pryor, who set a program record in the shot put with a winning throw of 55 feet. The throw earned her a spot in next month's NCAA regional competition at the University of Florida.
"It's hard to get away from everything that happened," said Pryor, noting that the television sets in the lobby of the team hotel during the ACC Championships were broadcasting stories about the massacre while the team was checking in. "All this bad news about Virginia Tech, we tried to show everyone we were still strong after everything that happened. It gave us motivation to do well at the meet."
Pryor, who transferred from Syracuse University to Virginia Tech in January, was among the lucky ones who didn't get caught in the crossfire. Pryor was asleep in her off-campus apartment during the shootings. She learned of the day's tragic events from her roommate, who was on campus in a building near Norris Hall during the shootings.
"I don't know if I can explain what I was feeling," Pryor said about hearing the news. After a long pause, she asked not to talk about the shootings any more during an interview last week with The Buffalo News.
Pryor's mother, Vicki, admitted she wanted her daughter to come home after learning about the shootings. But she also understood why Brittany and the rest of the track team opted to stay in Blacksburg -- believing that preparing to compete well at the ACC Championships would provide a much-needed positive for all Virginia Tech students.
"I was very concerned about Brittany being so far away and, with this tragedy happening, worrying how she was going to get through it," said Vicki Prior, who attended the ACC meet in College Park, Md., with Brittany's younger sister, Ariel. "We talked [on the phone] about her reaching out for help just so she could deal with her feelings and emotions.
"I do remember thinking to myself this is something else I'd have to think about, a constant worry, but I have a strong faith. You have to have something to lean on to get through tough times. I knew through faith everything would be OK."
Brittany Pryor was one of six women on the Hokies to win events at the ACC Championships as Virginia Tech beat second-place University of Miami, 144.5-113.
To be able to maintain the focus necessary to compete after a life-altering experience is a feat in itself. Winning a conference championship was an accomplishment that didn't go unnoticed by the campus community. Several students congratulated Pryor and her teammates when classes resumed.
"We were able to come out and perform to our ability under difficult circumstances, and that shows the character of this team," Hokies head coach Dave Cianelli said.
The Hokies' rivals at the ACC meet paid their respects to the Virginia Tech community with a moment of silence before the competition. Competitors also wore maroon and orange VT pins to further pay their respects to the victims and their families.
It was a gesture that didn't go unnoticed.
"It was a really nice thing they did," Pryor said. "With everything that happened, seeing that made me smile."
"Even though something tragic happened, they still tried their hardest and gave their all to achieve an accomplishment," Vicki Pryor said. "They knew they had to push forward just to start the healing process."