Yeardley Love's legacy lives on, 10 years after her death, by empowering millions to identify abuse

Back in 2008, Charlotte Ward rooted for Virginia lacrosse, and a 10-minute meeting with Yeardley Love in 2009 changed Ward's life forever. Courtesy Charlotte Ward

THEY MET FOR 10 minutes 11 years ago, but Charlotte Ward never forgot Yeardley Love. It's funny what one little gesture can do. Ward was 14 years old, but she was sure of two things: that she loved the University of Virginia, and that someday she was going to play Division I lacrosse.

UVa played Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the spring of 2009, and Ward, who lived 40 minutes outside of Boston, painted her face and headed off to root on the team of her affections. She wasn't hard to miss; she was wearing bright-orange pants. But she could not muster up the courage to ask anyone to sign her poster.

As the teams prepared to leave and Ward stood dejected and alone in the corner of the field, a smiling stranger approached.

"Hi," she said, "I'm Yeardley."

Five-foot-6 and 115 pounds, Love was by no means the star of the UVa lacrosse team. When she arrived in Charlottesville as a freshman, at least one teammate wondered if she was too small, and too sweet, to play for one of the best teams in the country. "But she was like a pit bull out there," said Whit Hagerman Willocks, a team captain in 2010. "She was so strong that you were like, 'How are you even doing that?' She held her own in every instance because she was so speedy and feisty."

Love didn't just get an autograph for the girl in the orange pants that day in 2009. She put her arm around her and introduced her to every single player on the team. At first, Willocks assumed the girl was one of Love's relatives but no, that was just "Yards." Love made sure Ward got every autograph on that poster.

"After that interaction, she was my favorite player because of how she made me feel," Ward said. "She made me feel like I had value ... like I was one of them. She made me feel capable of realizing my dream."

A year later, on May 3, 2010, Ward's mom pulled her aside to tell her the news that would shake a community, and college athletics, to its core. Yeardley Love was dead.

Ward went to bed that night, staring at the poster on her wall until she fell asleep.

A MOTHER KNOWS one thing: She does not want to outlive her child. If the worst happens, and the natural order of life collapses, the only other hope is that her child is never forgotten.

In the spring of 2010, it seemed impossible that Yeardley Love would be forgotten by virtue of the manner of her death. She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, George Wesley Huguely V, three weeks before graduation and days before what was supposed to be her final NCAA tournament. Huguely was a midfielder on the UVa men's lacrosse team. News media from all over the country swooped into Charlottesville to cover the story, which was on the cover of People magazine.

But when the satellite trucks left, Sharon Love was still alone with her grief. For 22 years, she'd talked to her daughter every single day. She thought she knew everything a mother should. She'd met Huguely on multiple occasions -- he'd even been in her house for dinner -- and her biggest takeaway, or concern, was that he was too laid back, that he seemed as if he didn't have a care in the world.

Sharon Love didn't know much about domestic or relationship violence back then. She didn't understand its pervasiveness until 2012, when one-third of the jury pool for Huguely's trial had to be dismissed because they closely knew someone who was a victim of domestic violence.

When Huguely was sentenced to 23 years in prison for second-degree murder and grand larceny in August 2012 (he has appealed his conviction multiple times, most recently last week), Sharon Love could move to a quieter yet uncertain chapter in her life. She did not want to spend it sitting at home and grieving. Most of all, she didn't want anyone else to go through what Yeardley did.

Love and her daughter Lexie started a foundation shortly after Yeardley's death, and it focused on scholarships for inner-city lacrosse players, and that seemed to make sense. But after the trial, Sharon Love couldn't shake one thought: What if Yeardley's death could've been prevented?

Sharon Love is a gentle woman who tutored deaf children for 28 years in the Baltimore City public schools system and is not one to draw attention to herself.

But in 2012, as she sat at a kitchen table in New York with a couple of women pressing her about what she wanted the One Love Foundation to be, Love surprised everyone, maybe including herself, when she blurted out her mission.

"I want it to do for domestic violence what Mothers Against Drunk Drivers did for drunk driving," she said.

YEARDLEY LOVE MIGHT have been the nicest person on the Virginia lacrosse team, but she always got what she wanted, and was relentless in her pursuits. She was 10 when she said she wanted to play lacrosse at UVa, and Sharon figured it was just a phase.

Her older daughter, Lexie, went to Charlottesville for a camp one summer, and the family drove down to drop her off. From that moment on, Yeardley's college plans were set. She'd spend hours smacking balls against the garage, and UVa coach Julie Myers knew of her by the time she was 14.

Her name alone made her memorable. There weren't any other girls in school named Yeardley.

"I remember the day she was born," said Yeardley's cousin Sharon Robinson. "I was like, 'What is that name?' And it's so funny because I can't imagine her being anything else. Even when she was 3 or 4 years old, she had so much positive energy."

Love's father, John, attended the University of Virginia before he entered the military. John Love died of cancer when Yeardley was in eighth grade, and it made the bonds with her mother and sister closer. In the days after his death, the three of them slept in bed together.

"It was like we were a trio for quite a while," Sharon Love said. "I felt horrible for my kids, but they were such troupers."

When Yeardley went to college, Sharon would travel to her games. The network of traveling parents became sort of a community, a support system. What Love lacked in size and talent, she made up for with versatility. She played every position except goalie, and actually dressed up as that one April Fools' Day.

And when her playing time decreased her senior season, Love did not complain.

In those daily conversations with her mother, Love talked about school and lacrosse but didn't mention much about her dating life. There were signs of trouble, but no one picked up on them, and they certainly didn't think Huguely was capable of killing Yeardley.

But there were signs. Such as Huguely's out-of-control drinking, and the aggressive behavior that accompanied it. At the trial, a North Carolina men's lacrosse player testified that three months before Love's death, he heard Love crying and found Huguely's hands around her neck in a choke hold.

Love told her mother about a physical altercation, but downplayed it when Sharon told her daughter go to the police. The couple had broken up, and in a few months, she'd move to New York and be far away from him.

"Without getting into too much detail," Willocks said, "we all saw things that we just didn't know what we were seeing. We obviously couldn't assume that the worst was going to happen in our wildest dreams.

"We were living such a wonderful life, and we had everything going for us. What happened to her ... was unimaginable."

UVa coach Julie Myers calls May 3, 2010, the longest day of her life. She was up early unloading the dishwasher when her phone rang at 6 a.m. Myers' son Timmy always got up at 5 a.m. back then -- Timmy Time, they called it. At first, she was told that Love had been in an accident and there was "a lot of blood," and Myers assumed it was a car accident. "What other accident happens to a college kid with a lot of blood?" she said. Then she was told that Love was found face-down in a pillow and that she had died. Myers could not understand what happened. Who would want to hurt Yeardley? She summoned her team to The Lawn, the grassy, historic courtyard that was once the center of Thomas Jefferson's academic community.

Sharon Love made her way down to campus, and in her fog of grief and confusion, she asked Myers, "Do you have Yeardley?" Myers cried. Yeardley's body was in Richmond for an autopsy. Sharon attended the team meeting, somehow, and looked at the faces who'd become part of her community, young women who'd eventually get married and have children and live adult lives that her daughter never would.

She encouraged the team to stick together and lean on each other for support. She had no idea that 10 years later, those women -- moms and wives and professionals -- would be keeping Yeardley's memory going in their own little ways.

ONE OF SHARON ROBINSON'S best friends is Katie Hood, who happens to be an expert on running nonprofit organizations. In 2010, Hood was CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation when she got a call that she needed to get over to Sharon Robinson's house because her cousin had just been murdered.

Robinson was sitting in the middle of her hallway floor, white as a ghost, when Hood found her. Robinson's three small children were around her, so she just mouthed to Hood what had happened. A month later, Sharon Love made a trip to New York with her daughter Lexie and Robinson to talk to Hood about setting up a foundation for Yeardley. They were racked with grief, and it was way too early to be talking about these things. But they wanted something positive to come out of something so unspeakable. And Yeardley taught them that when things are tough, you show up and power through.

In 2012, after the trial, the One Love Foundation received a $1 million donation, and Sharon Love knew she had to zero in on a purpose. She may not have known much about domestic and relationship violence in 2010, but through the next two years, it was impossible to escape it.

"The issue is so ginormous," Sharon Love said. "You want to help children in the homes of abuse. ... There's so many things you want to do, and it's hard to turn away from any of them. But we knew we had to narrow it down and laser focus on one thing to be successful. So we flipped the other side to prevention with 16- to 24-year-olds, which is the most prevalent age group. I never knew [relationship violence] existed in that group until I became a statistic."

The mission of One Love would be to arm young people with the knowledge to identify and avoid abusive relationships. Young women in that age range are at three times greater risk than any other demographic, Hood said.

In the past five years, One Love's workshops have reached 1.1 million people, and according to the foundation, its online educational content has been viewed more than 100 million times. Hood said the organization trained people as far away as Hong Kong and South Africa to do its workshops.

"We want to teach people about the warning signs so that tragedies like Yeardley's can be averted," said Hood, whose involvement started as a favor to a friend. "I never met Yeardley, but I feel like I know Yeardley because I'm surrounded by people who love her.

"Nobody wants to think that things like this are preordained, but it's gratifying to realize it didn't all end that day. Her legacy lives on, and she will continue to touch people and make the world a better place even though she's no longer with us."

Willocks, who coaches lacrosse at a boarding school in New Hampshire, tells her players about Love and has gone to other schools to spread the One Love message. She said she thinks of her old teammate every day. Every May 3, Myers texts eight of her former players, Love's closest friends, to check in on them.

They wonder what Love would be doing now. Last year on the anniversary, Willocks was with Sharon Love at a One Love event in Boston.

"The number of years doesn't change anything," Sharon said. "It can feel like 100 years ago one day and 10 minutes another day. Her friends getting married and having babies ... that's what makes me miss her the most."

CHARLOTTE WARD DID not end up playing lacrosse for the University of Virginia. She went to Stanford, and became a two-time captain.

Ward was not the most talented player, and wasn't even a starter. But she had a way of picking up everyone around her, and she believes Love taught her that.

She's 25 now, and has a sales job with a software company. And in her spare time, she volunteers with One Love, doing workshops and telling people about the time she met Yeardley Love.

"She's someone I'll carry with me forever," Ward said.

Advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline are available to talk confidentially with anyone in the United States who is experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).