In the emotional years since the murder of Yeardley Love in May 2010, her mother, Sharon, and older sister, Lexie, have had one thing to distract them from from their sadness, a "driving force," as Lexie called it, that has kept them afloat when little else could.
On Sunday, that driving force — the Yeardley Love Field at the shared alma mater of the two sisters and their mother, Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson — will be dedicated at a Sept. 9 ceremony expected to include hundreds of family members, friends and current students.
"Our good friends were our lifeboat," Sharon Love said this week, recalling the family's journey.
"Good friends, and total strangers," Sharon Love said. "We've gotten so much support from so many, both emotionally and financially. That's all I felt kept us afloat. It still does."
Yeardley Reynolds Love was days from graduation at University of Virginia when she was found dead in her apartment near campus at age 22. George Huguely V, now 24, was convicted earlier this year of second-degree murder in her death and last week he was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
After enduring the trial and media frenzy around it, Sharon and Lexie declined to discuss the sentencing of Huguely, referring simply to a family statement that said, in part, "We are relieved to put this chapter behind us. … We would like to thank everyone for showing us such kindness during the most difficult time of our lives."
They said their focus is now on Yeardley Love Field, the first of many works they expect to emerge from the One Love Foundation, an organization the family formed in the wake of her death. Since the campaign began, Yeardley's family has used it as a "mental booster," said Lexie Love, Yeardley's older sister, who was 25 at the time of the incident.
"We'd have our good days, and bad days," she said. "If we were upset, it would be a distraction, a positive distraction for us. It kept us busy."
'She's always with them'
On Monday afternoon, that positive idea became a reality for Lexie, who got her first look at the $1.2 million turf field built both out of, and for, Love.
"All the hard work that everybody has put in throughout the past two years has really made a huge impression on me," she said.
"To actually see it with my own eyes, it's unbelievable," she said. "It made us realize Yeardley must have been loved by so many."
Sharon Love, of Cockeysville, who had seen the field twice before, was still struck Monday as she took in just how big it is. The field, lined in white, light blue and an electric blue — Yeardley's class colors — was aesthetically just how Yeardley would have wanted it, she said.
But she also noted that the school's old grass field, however unpredictably it may have made a lacrosse or field hockey ball bounce, might have been more Yeardley's style.
"Ironically, her knees always bothered her on turf fields," Sharon said. "She liked playing on grass."
If that's true, NDP's current crop of student-athletes are taking the turf much better than its namesake would have.
Mary Bartel, Yeardley's lacrosse coach and chair of the physical education department, said that after the first day of practice on the field, the fall athletes simply laid at the center of the field on the NDP logo and soaked in their new field.
Sharon Love said the field will bring up the school's athletic programs, something Lexie is glad her sister and family could assist.
"Having Yeardley be a part of it, it's extra special," she said. "I hope that it is for all the girls who play on it too. She's always with them out there."
Sharon Robinson, who is Yeardley's and Lexie's cousin and has served as the family's spokeswoman over the past two years, said that almost immediately after Yeardley's death, donations began pouring in to the One Love Foundation. Everyone, she said, wanted to know what they could do to help.
Yeardley graduated from NDP in 2006, and was a member of the varsity lacrosse and field hockey teams all four years of high school — and was an all-county lacrosse player in her senior year. At the University of Virginia, with the women's lacrosse team, she won two ACC titles and played in a Final Four. Her passion for sport made the foundation's first project an easy pick.
"Within a couple of weeks, we decided that we'd hoped to do a field her honor," Robinson said. "Sharon and Lexie Love made the big decision on what would be done."
"My mom and I, our brains were mush," Lexie Love said. "But we owe it to everyone who came forward and offered their support and kind of nudged us along."
Help and support from extended family was crucial; the death of Yeardley came just seven years after the loss of her father, John Love, who died of cancer in 2003.
Once the Love Field project was under way, the realities of what they were undertaking set in as well. The mother and daughter had "no concept of what we were getting into," Sharon said, and didn't realize how much work and fundraising it would take to complete.
"We all stayed committed to it," Robinson said. "There were a lot of huge donors, and there were a lot of $5 and $10 donors."
Most notably, the One Love Foundation (www.joinonelove.org) received a financial boost from the Charles T. Bauer Foundation, which in December 2010 issued a challenge grant and matched more than $500,000 in donations to the field with funds that created a fully endowed scholarship in Love's name.
A year later, the Charles T. Bauer Foundation donated an additional $165,000.
'It just seems heaven sent'
"It just kept moving right along, and so many people chipped in and did so many things to get this field done," Sharon Love said. "It's impossible to name everyone. You don't want to name one because it's just so many people, so many good friends, so many total strangers who just hopped on board and got it done."
For Yeardley's family and close friends, the hope is that the field that will honor her name will help all who play on it understand just how special Notre Dame Prep, where Yeardley began in the sixth grade, was to her.
"Her friendships from Notre Dame endured very strongly through college, and I believe they would have endured to this day," Robinson said. "I feel like I know, from Lexie and Sharon, that being at Notre Dame was instrumental to who she was.
"We're very proud of her," Robinson said, "but we know she was always someone who reflected on people who helped her get there. The Notre Dame community was very important to her."
On Sunday evening, that community will gather for the field dedication ceremony, a seminal moment on several fronts.
"This was kind of the first main goal of the One Love Foundation," Robinson said. "Now that this is finished, we're going to move onto bigger and broader issues, focusing on relationship violence and youth sportsmanship.
"We're excited for this chapter and proud that the first main goal has been accomplished, but we couldn't have done it alone."
Sharon Love said the foundation's work has been "unbelievable."
"It just seems heaven sent," she said. "So many things have just happened without us really going out to try and make them happen.
"I feel like somebody's up there pulling the strings — Miss Yeardley."
Yeardley Love Field
Notre Dame Preparatory School, 815 Hampton Lane, Towson, will dedicate the turf field named in honor of late alumna Yeardley Reynolds Love, Class of 2006 on Sunday, Sept. 9, at 5 p.m. Included in the ceremony will be prayers and remarks from representatives of NDP and the Love family, readings and music and a blessing of the field.
The $1.2 million, state-of-the-art turf field will provide competition space for field hockey, lacrosse and soccer, and is the results of donations to both Notre Dame Preparatory School and the One Love Foundation.