Former Winthrop student-athlete and Hall of Fame member Janiva Willis died in an automobile accident Tuesday night near Van Horn, Texas.
The State Police report indicated the car in which she was riding with driver Jeffrey Turner was struck by a tractor-trailer truck. Turner was also killed in the accident.
According to the Texas Highway Patrol, the crash was reported around 9 p.m. on westbound Interstate 10 in Hudspeth County about five miles west of Van Horn.
Willis was making a cross country bicycle journey from San Diego to Charlotte to raise funds for the “I Dream in Colors Tour,” a nonprofit mission to raise money for mentoring initiatives in Rock Hill and other cities. She was scheduled to arrive in Rock Hill on June 9 and then depart for Charlotte for the last leg of her journey on June 11.
A native of Irishtown, Nova Scotia, Willis excelled during her years at Winthrop as both an athlete and a student. She was a four-year All-Big South performer in softball and was selected the NCAA South Carolina Woman of the Year in 2005 and was a top 10 finalist for NCAA Woman of the Year. She went on to play for the Canadian National Team in 2005 and 2007. In 2012, she was inducted into the Winthrop Athletics Hall of Fame.
As a student, she was voted to the 2005 CoSIDA Academic All-America third team and was a 2005 Arthur Ashe Scholar recipient. In 2013 she was invited back to her alma mater to deliver the Winthrop Convocation address to the incoming freshman class.
“We are stunned by this tragic news. Janiva was such a vibrant and positive person to be around,” said Winthrop athletic director Tom Hickman. “She was so excited about the work she was doing to help mentor the youth in this area and was such a great role model. We were eagerly awaiting her arrival back to Rock Hill following her journey. She certainly made her mark on both our softball program and the university. She will be missed.”