We’ve had a year to process the enormity of losing our dearest Allie. As we continue discovering all of the ways in which we miss her, the thing that we — her family — keeps returning to is how much she taught us to adventure, live big, love and forgive.
Allie was given a high-functioning brain and a body that wouldn’t cooperate. Her physical challenges meant that she heard “you can’t” and “you’ll never be able to” more often than any child ever should. On top of all this, she also lost her sight at a young age. After that, Allie decided that she no longer cared what other people thought she could or couldn’t do. She attended camps and programs for the blind where she learned to ski, surf, drive a snowmobile, go on rope courses, zip line, ride horses, and so much more. She joined the cheerleading squad for the Black Hills Junior Football League and won the first ever Elizabeth Robert Memorial Spirit Award because of her infectious enthusiasm.
While attending Washington State University, Allie discovered that she had the talent to realize her dream of being a professional public speaker. In January 2015, she was personally invited by Nick Vujicic to speak about her experience attending Extreme Mobility Camp. Soon after, WSU’s ROTC professor, Chris Heatherly, began inviting Allie to speak to his cadets about resilience — a relationship that would continue for several years. Heatherly saw in Allie something that the world at large tried so hard to diminish and ignore: that she, a young woman with big dreams whose body was already failing her at the young age of 18, had more grit and strength in her than the toughest of his peers. In recognition of her amazing achievements, she was given the Commander’s Award for Excellence and was invited back to WSU to speak to the campus at large about mental health. Even when she was in immense pain, she spoke to several classes of primary students about being blind. She helped them understand the experience by having them wear blindfolds, explaining Braille, showing them the accommodations that she could use, and letting them have their photos taken individually with her guide dog, Flyer.
For those of us lucky enough to live with Allie, though, it was her immense capacity for gratitude and love that wowed us every day. She knew better than most that each day is precious and that we are not guaranteed more time with the people we love. Allie never missed an opportunity to tell her family how much she loved us and what she admired about us. In the last few years of her life, Allie’s physical challenges began to worsen with increasing rapidity and she began to experience excruciating pain almost constantly. Despite this, she never stopped thanking us for caring for her and finding ways to bring light, positivity and courage into each of our lives.
Perhaps the hardest lesson we learned from Allie’s too-brief time here with us, was radical compassion. Throughout her life, Allie was teased, tormented and bombarded with hate and ignorance by those who couldn’t or didn’t care to see beyond the fact that she was different. For those of us who loved Allie the most, it was easy to become bitter and angry when she faced verbal and physical abuse in public. Her ability to love and forgive was bolstered by her faith, honed over her whole life attending Emmanuel Lutheran Church where she also participated in the Music and Drama group.
We miss our girl more than we can say. Our only consolation is that she is no longer in pain. We miss her smile, laughter, hugs, cheerfulness and her ability to forgive and see the good in everyone. Until we meet again, remember how much we love you!
— Mom, Dad and twin (older!) brother, Andrew