Danny Cox is gone, but his memory will linger long in the hearts and minds of Petalumans who celebrated his life, admired his courage and mourned his passing.

The story of the teenage athlete says much about Danny and much about the Petaluma community. More than 1,000 people gathered in the stands at Durst Field Sunday to celebrate his too-short life and share the hurt of his death. The memories continued at a reception at the Mystic Theatre.

In life, Danny was an outstanding track and field athlete at Petaluma High School, and one of the best long and triple jumpers in the Redwood Empire.

His friends knew him as a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky classmate who seemed to make everyone around him happy, keeping them loose and smiling with his outgoing personality and somewhat offbeat sense of humor.

Danny's life, full of joy and promise as he graduated from Petaluma High with every intention of becoming a firefighter, took a tragic turn on Aug. 10, 2010 when a freak accident, the result of a dive into shallow water at Lake Tahoe, left him paralyzed from the chest down.

For one very difficult year, Danny fought to recover and learned to live with his disability, showing the community a brave spirit as he tried gamely to adjust to his new world.

He even learned to drive in his specially adapted 2005 Dodge Magnum. It was this vehicle that smashed into an oak tree alongside Highway 101 near Olompali State Park in Marin County on Aug. 7. Danny died in the crash.

Through his recovery and adjustment, the Petaluma community rallied in support of the teenager and his family.

Many benefits were held to help cover Danny's escalating medical bills. Part of the proceeds from the Carousel Fund's big Casino Night went to help Danny. It was at that event that he made his first public appearance after leaving the hospital.

Many other events followed. There was a golf tournament at Rooster Run Golf Course, and recently, a second tournament; there was a concert featuring many local musicians; proceeds from the Casa Grande vs. Petaluma alumni football game went to Danny and his family. Everyone wanted to help.

Part of the community's response was for Danny himself. Those who knew him, respected and loved him, wanted to do whatever they could. So did hundreds of his neighbors whom Danny would never know.

Part of all this generosity came about simply because this is Petaluma. Petalumans may bicker and battle over all things political. Many have a tough time agreeing on things like shopping center developments or highway interchanges. But when one of our own needs help, there isn't a community anywhere that has more heart.

Be it a natural disaster or personal catastrophe, the Petaluma community comes together. It rallied again to support Danny Cox and his family.

Tragic things do happen to good people. Danny Cox showed us how to be strong in the face of tragedy. The Petaluma community once again showed us how to love in the face of tragedy.