BRADENTON -- Dedication, strength and dance moves.
That's how members of Fit Crew will remember one of their own, who was killed last weekend in North Carolina in a traffic accident.
Laura Culp, a 20-year-old Sarasota resident and graduate of Saint Stephen's Episcopal School, was struck and killed by a car Friday night while she was jogging in Mooresville, N.C., where she was visiting for the Christmas holiday. She was struck around 6:30 p.m., and early reports indicate the driver was not at fault.
"It really sucked the breath out of you," said Tracey Rosa, marketing and public relations director at Fit Crew Bradenton.
Rosa and Ms. Culp worked out together for the past 1 1/2 years. Ms. Culp joined the gym while she was a student at Saint Stephens, Rosa said, and came back to work out during breaks from studying at Tulane University.
An energetic presence at the Fit Crew location on 19th Avenue West in Bradenton, Ms. Culp recently reached a personal best on her back squat that Rosa caught on video and posted on the Fit Crew Facebook page. The clip, from Wednesday, shows Ms. Culp dancing a little as she attempted, then successfully completed, the 315-pound squat.
"That's what she did. If she set her mind to something, she did it," Rosa said.
Ms. Culp's quirky dancing is a trait Rosa will remember well. Not only would the move pump up Ms. Culp, but it'd put everyone else around her in a good mood. It's hard for Rosa to believe she just saw Ms. Culp's bold smile and bold, joyful eyes a week ago. They wished each other "Merry Christmas" at the end of their workout.
At Saint Stephens, Ms. Culp was known for her high, high heels, one of the only areas of expression students have with the school's dress code, said Randy Watts, the former upper school director at Saint Stephens.
Watts and his wife, Nadia, both remember Ms. Culp as having a passion for life. In addition to seeing her in the hallways, Ms. Culp babysat their son. The Watts live in Georgia now, but were stunned and saddened by Ms. Culp's death.
"I cannot wrap my arms around it," Nadia Watts said.
Watts recalled a particular instance, right before Ms. Culp graduated in 2013. Typically, the school holds a closing ceremony before the graduation ceremony where students perform for one another. Watts remembers Ms. Culp coming up to him and informing him that she'd be performing "Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole.
"It was the first time in my career I had a student come up to me and tell me she was going to sing," he said. "It was heartfelt."
Erin Geraghty, owner of THRIVE Yoga and Fitness, had worked with Ms. Culp for the past 1 1/2 years. Geraghty teaches both at her studio on Cortez Road in Bradenton and at Fit Crew, where she met Ms. Culp. On Wednesday, the last day Geraghty saw her, Ms. Culp told her that she started doing yoga to find "peace of mind" and that yoga ended up being "her happy place."
"She makes you feel like it's OK to be yourself," Geraghty said. "With each day that passes, I feel another layer of sadness."
Funeral services were held Tuesday at St. John's United Methodist Church in Sarasota.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in her memory be made to the Pines of Sarasota, 1501 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota.
Ms. Culp is survived by her parents Catherine Culp and John Culp; her brother, Alex Culp; sister, Amanda Culp; maternal grandmother, Gertrude Smithson of Sarasota; and aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.