F3 groups go ‘sleeveless for Cheech’ to honor Lexington man killed in collision

F3 exercise in Columbia

A group with the fitness group F3 exercises near Dreher High School in February of 2015. All workouts are free of charge and open to all men.
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A group with the fitness group F3 exercises near Dreher High School in February of 2015. All workouts are free of charge and open to all men.

They showed up before dawn Thursday with heavy hearts – and sleeveless shirts.

Across the country, members of the F3 Nation completed their morning workouts in honor of Lexington resident John Flanagan, who died after being hit by a car while running with group members Wednesday morning.

Flanagan, 38, was running on Sunset Boulevard just before 6 a.m. when he was hit by a car at North Lake Drive, Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said. He died just after 11 p.m. Wednesday at Palmetto Health Richland hospital.

Flanagan was a member of F3 Lexington, which is part of the larger F3 Nation comprised of local groups around the country that hold boot camp-style workouts most mornings. “F3” refers to the three pillars of the group – fitness, fellowship and faith.

“No doubt!” fellow F3 member Barry Morgan tweeted Thursday. “No doubt he loved his kids, no doubt he loved his wife, no doubt he loved the Lord! Cheech left no doubt!”

Giving nicknames to members is an F3 tradition. Flanagan’s was “Cheech.”

F3 members from Rock Hill to Kentucky to Tennessee posted pictures of themselves during Thursday’s workout wearing T-shirts with the sleeves cut off, an apparent Flanagan trademark. Many included the hashtags #SleevelessForCheech or #CheechStrong.

The Lexington Police Department on Thursday determined that the driver who hit Flanagan, West Columbia resident Rebecca Laird, was not at fault. Officials said Laird was traveling east on North Lake Drive toward Sunset with a green light when Flanagan ran across the road and was hit by her car.

Police said independent witnesses and nearby surveillance video helped determine Laird was not at fault.

Members of F3 Lexington said in a Twitter post that Flanagan was wearing a headlamp, a reflective safety vest and a blinking light for visibility when he was hit and described him as an experienced runner who was familiar with the route.

‘Yeah, that’s Cheech’

Lexington resident and F3 Lexington member Matt Netzel, 31, said he met Flanagan while running a 5K race in August 2015.

“A runner comes up from behind me, talking and pushing me,” Netzel said. “Pushing me with words of encouragement and, literally, pushing on me to move forward faster.”

After the race, Netzel said, he pointed out the pushy runner to another F3 member.

“I asked him if he knew who that was and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s Cheech,’ Netzel said.

Flanagan didn’t just push members during races and workouts, Netzel said. He also pushed them to grow in their faith and led the group’s 4:30 a.m. Bible study before workouts.

‘A grill master’

At Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church on Sunset Boulevard, where Flanagan was a member, a prayer vigil was held Wednesday night.

Flanagan and his wife Rebekah were high school sweethearts and have two children, according to Meredith Cully, marketing director for the church who is also a friend and neighbor and has known Flanagan since 2004.

“They were yin and yang,” Cully, 39, said of the couple. “They made the whole.”

Cully said many residents in their neighborhood are also members of Saxe Gotha. They regularly get together for cookouts and pool parties. She described Flanagan as “a grill master.”

“He was the kind of dad that kept the grill going to keep everybody well fed, that drove swim team carpools, that was out in the yard playing with the kids,” Cully said of Flanagan. “... I think of him being at the pool, playing with the kids, throwing people, throwing a ball with somebody – being a big kid himself.”

Cully, who is a Clemson Tigers fan, said she often exchanged playful banter with Flanagan, who was a Gamecocks fan. In the hours since his death, Cully said Thursday that she keeps thinking of a picture of Flanagan and her daughter after they ate some blue candy.

“They both had their tongues stuck out, smiling for the camera,” she said. “He had the joy for small things and making other people smile. That’s all I could picture in my mind was the joy in his eyes.”

Flanagan was coming off a recent illness, Cully said. Yet, he still was more concerned with how others were doing.

“That’s the way John was,” she said. “He was asking about other people. He was caring for their welfare. John was concerned about others – not himself.”

Celebration of life

Funeral services for John Flanagan will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church, 5503 Sunset Blvd., in Lexington. Visitation will follow.

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