Walking in her footsteps
February 11, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Family travels to Tanzania in honor of late daughter
Kristy LeMond was an Issaquah girl.
She grew up in this community she called home, attending Sunset Elementary School, Pine Lake Middle School and Issaquah High School, where she starred on the Eagles volleyball team before graduating in 2007 and enrolling at the University of Washington.
She had a second home, though, and it was more than 9,000 miles away in a Tanzania community she grew to love deeply after a 2011 post-graduation volunteer trip.
“She was forever changed,” Kristy’s mother Kathy said. “She left her heart there. She absolutely loved it and knew she would go back.”
Kristy, 24, never got the chance to return to the Rift Valley Children’s Village orphanage. She passed away May 1, 2013, after a 10-month battle with cancer, but it was her wish that her family would one day get to experience the place that captured a part of her heart.
Her parents Barry and Kathy and brother Kevin fulfilled that wish in December, when the three decided to spend their first Christmas without Kristy getting to know the community she loved.
It took only minutes for the family to realize the place, made possible by the Tanzanian Children’s Fund, was special, as kids from the orphanage clamored to assist them with their three 50-pound duffel bags full of donated items.
“Within minutes, your hearts are full,” Kathy said. “These kids are so precious.”
Walking in Kristy’s footsteps
During her two-month stay in 2011, Kristy wrote a blog about the children, sharing playful stories about their personalities and adventures. Many of the older children fondly remembered her, and quickly took to her brother Kevin, possibly seeing a bit of her in him, Barry said.
The LeMonds spent only five days at the orphanage, but every day brought new experiences, Kathy said, each more special than the next.
Whether it was taking a walk with the children, helping them practice their English or playing Kristy’s favorite sport, volleyball, with them, the family cherished the amazing opportunity to literally walk in Kristy’s footsteps.
“It was surreal in a lot of ways because we knew that we were taking walks that Kristy had taken with the kids,” she said. “We were interacting with the same ones she had written so much about.”
One of the more memorable moments was getting the opportunity to meet Neema, the first recipient of the Kristy LeMond Scholarship for Girls, Barry said.
Thanks to funds raised in Kristy’s memory, girls will get to continue their education in a country where most never go beyond primary school.
“They told us it’s like this child just won a lottery, that’s how big it is to them,” Barry said. “This is exactly what Kristy would want.”
The family also toured a local secondary school in disrepair. The government and the Tanzanian Children’s Fund are working together to rebuild it and provide additional teachers.
The Kristy LeMond Memorial Fund committed $12,000 to renovate one of the classrooms, something that Kristy, who minored in education, would have appreciated, her parents said.
“Kristy gave of herself, that’s what she did and what she wanted was for people to experience that, too,” Kathy said.
‘My little sunshine’
It was difficult to leave after their short stay, Kathy said, and was made even more so when a young girl named Gabi approached the LeMonds’ car to say goodbye.
Gabi was the same little girl that was glued to Kristy’s lap, longing for her to stay, before she departed home from her 2011 visit. Kristy described Gabi as “my little sunshine,” in one of her blog posts.
“It was sort of this full circle,” Kathy said, “just a really special moment that Gabi was the one there at the end.”
Before the LeMonds left the Rift Valley Children’s Village, they scattered some of Kristy’s ashes near the volunteer home where she stayed in 2011. They also placed sunflower stickers on the windows.
The flower-shaped stickers emblazoned with Kristy’s initials have become a symbol of her presence.
“Knowing that Kristy didn’t want to be idle even when she was gone, it was suggested at the post-memorial service that people take these stickers wherever they go, take a picture and essentially take Kristy with them,” Kathy said.
It has spawned a Facebook page where friends post photos of all the places they’ve taken Kristy. She’s been to Hong Kong, the Sasquatch music festival and she even went paragliding.
The LeMonds also put a sticker on the vehicle they traveled in for a one-day safari in the Ngorongoro Crater, the same safari Kristy went on in 2011.
“She’ll get to go down to the crater a lot,” Barry said with a smile.
The trip culminated with a visit to Zanzibar, an island just off of Tanzania. It was something that Kristy had wanted to do, but she just couldn’t find the time in 2011.
“The three of us decided that we would go to Zanzibar for her,” Kathy said.
It was there that the family got to swim with Kristy, taking her ashes with them as they took a dip in the Indian Ocean.
One day, the family will return to Africa, Barry said. Kristy’s brother Kevin hopes to take her to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the continent’s highest mountain.
“Don’t know how and when, but the LeMond family will be going back someday,” Barry said.
‘Wake up and live’
Kristy’s loyalty and giving personality still remains at the forefront of many who knew her. An anonymous donor started a University of Washington scholarship in her name, while her UW sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, is establishing one, too. The makeup company Julep even created a special nail polish named after her.
Her Issaquah community continues to honor her as well. Kristy was the subject of Issaquah High School math teacher Jonathan Ko’s speech to the seniors at the 2013 commencement ceremony.
Ko never met Kristy, though he did know her brother, a 2010 Issaquah graduate. What he knew of her he learned from her blog, where she shared her battle with cancer.
“Kristy had truly lived and she never wasted one single moment,” he told the graduates. “I don’t know a thing about how to live life, and you only get one, but I am learning and Kristy has been teaching me.”
A tribute to Kristy will forever stand in her Sammamish Beach Club neighborhood in the form of a park bench inscribed with the name of her blog, “Wake up and live.”
It’s support such as that that makes the days a little easier for the LeMond family.
“It lets us know that we’re going to be alright,” Kathy said, “because there are all these great people surrounding us.”
On the web
Learn more about Kristy LeMond and find ways to support her memory at www.kristylemond.com.