When Gail Megaloudis Rongen presented a scholarship to Samara Stephen-Dowd at Oakton High School's recent year-end sports banquet, she said she felt a connection. Stephen-Dowd, a basketball and soccer player who just completed her senior year, struck Rongen as a generous and caring young athlete -- not unlike Rongen's daughter, Nicole Megaloudis.
Rongen awarded Stephen-Dowd $5,000 from the Nicole Megaloudis Foundation, a nonprofit organization created after Megaloudis died in a car crash in February 2004. It was the fourth scholarship in 10 months that the foundation has granted in memory of Megaloudis, a 2003 Potomac Falls graduate who was a second-team All-Met as a senior.
"When I said my last goodbye to my daughter, I made a promise to her," Rongen said, "that she would not be forgotten and I would carry on the good deeds that she did for others."
Megaloudis was the only freshman starter on Virginia Commonwealth's women's soccer team in 2004. She was shooting to make the Greek Olympic soccer team for last year's Athens games -- her paternal grandfather was born in Greece -- but died before final cuts. Her brother, Chris, played at Potomac Falls and the University of Virginia, and her stepfather, Thomas Rongen, coached D.C. United for three seasons.
Those strong connections to the Washington area soccer community have generated waves of support as the foundation raises money to fund the scholarships.
"People are anxious to help," said D.C. United player Alecko Eskandarian, a college teammate of Chris Megaloudis and one of the pallbearers at Nicole's funeral. "So many people want to help and do things for her."
Jessica Wilks, from Chesterfield, Mo., who will be a junior at VCU this fall, received a $5,000 scholarship last August. Lauren Malan, a 2005 All-Met soccer player at Potomac Falls who will play for VCU, received $2,000 on June 9. Claire Grubbs, another recent Potomac Falls graduate who will play for Seattle Pacific, received $1,000 on the same day.
Stephen-Dowd also will play soccer for VCU. She was an honorable mention All-Met in soccer this past spring and Oakton soccer's most valuable player for two years.
Stephen-Dowd sent a letter to thank Gail Megaloudis Rongen shortly after receiving the scholarship, pledging to help the foundation in any way she could.
"While you were giving the speech about Nicole and what she wanted, I couldn't believe it, it is what I have planned to do with my life as well," Stephen-Dowd wrote. "It kind of gave me a weird feeling. Her story has impacted my life, and I hope that I will be able to live up to the memory."
The foundation will run a youth soccer tournament Aug. 13-14 in Purcellville to help raise funds. The tournament weekend, coordinated by Louise Moreno -- wife of D.C. United star Jaime Moreno -- will include a silent auction with items including autographed jerseys and personal training sessions with her husband.
In the coming months, Gail Megaloudis Rongen will work with the foundation in an effort to found an orphanage in Africa -- another dream of Nicole's. For now, though, the scholarships have done a good job of reflecting Megaloudis's priorities, her mother said.
"It helps me realize how important Nicole was, how important her life was," Rongen said. "Anything I can do to keep her memory alive and to help other people, I know that's what she wants."