This post doesn’t have to do with cycling or racing as much as it does with the amazing people that we get to know along the way. The entire outdoors community encountered a terrible tragedy when we lost a brother and sister that, to those of us who knew them, were beautiful beyond compare.
Most of us have at one time or another had amazing people come into our lives and change us for the better. One of those amazing people in my life was Kristen Yoder, who was killed with her brother Dustin while climbing in Peru at the young age of 21. Dustin was 23 and had just graduated from NAU in December. Kristen was going to graduate in spring 2007. I didn’t know Dustin as well, but I knew him well enough to know that he was remarkable, and the two of them were as tight as tight could be. They were beautiful, generous people who embraced life.
Kristen lived in our house at 302 N. Agassiz last year, until May when she moved out just before leaving for this trip to Peru. If you didn’t hear the story, we had been told by our property manager that our lease was not going to be renewed, and since Kristen was going to be out of the country, she moved out with the intention of moving back in the fall if we found another house. We ended up keeping our current house and Kristen’s room was waiting for her when she got back. We were looking forward to feeling the daily effects of her warm personality again.
We didn’t know Kristen at all when she moved in last May, but she came highly recommended from a friend who was moving out. Throughout the course of the year Gary and I got to know her well and were confident that we had made a good choice. We got to know all of her friends and family, including her father, Ken, who is one of the most interesting, successful, and genuine people I have ever met. Kristen proved to be a person who was young, full of energy, and eternally happy. I loved being around her, and she challenged me because as I got to know her I had to accept on a deeper level that her happiness was genuine; never forced or put on for show. I have a tendency to be sort of jaded towards the kind of optimism that Kristen possessed, but over time she wore both me and Gary down and we embraced her for who she truly was, a person overjoyed with life.
In my 25 years I have met few people who were so happy to be alive, or who deserved to live so much. I’ve never known someone who was so happy-go-lucky on a day in, day out basis, without condition or remorse. She never stressed, got angry, or treated people harshly. She was generous on a level that I have yet to understand. She had all the gear and material possessions that the world could afford her but valued her friends and family above anything else in her life. I saw more of her friends drive her car than I saw her drive it. She didn’t care. She wanted to be there for people when they needed it.
Kristen didn’t waste a minute of any day. She embraced life. She was always on the go with a huge smile on her face. She had more friends than I could keep track of. She was overjoyed with this trip to Peru and in the final weeks would talk about it all the time. We would stretch and do yoga together in the living room and she would tell me about the training she was doing for this trip. She had more experience with the outdoors and with mountaineering that most people twice her age. I know that with the combined experience of her brother and Brennan Larson that their group had to have used caution and digression. We still don’t know what happened to them or how they ended up in that crevasse. We also don’t know what the actual cause of death was. All I know is that Kristen and Dustin were not careless or inexperienced people, and they absolutely wanted to live.
Regardless, I MISS that girl so much. Every memory of her makes me smile or laugh out loud; just the way she could shrug off trivial things and focus on what makes life really valuable. It saddens me greatly that I will never see her again. She had her priorities straight, even at the young age of 21. If I had the privilege to see her grow older I know she would be even more remarkable as time went on. And the same goes for her brother, Dustin, who was equally as admirable. I had looked forward to knowing Kristen for many years to come, and I feel cheated that I have been deprived of such a solid friendship in my life. I know I can’t even contemplate the grief that her father must be feeling, and my heart goes out to him and to every other person in Flagstaff and Tucson whose lives they touched.
We can’t forget people like Kristen and Dustin Yoder. We must live every day of our lives aware of the fact that this life is so short and it can be taken from us at any time without notice. We have to treat the ones we love with kindness and respect, and be compassionate to others as to not live with any regrets. Kristen had no regrets. She made no apologies because she was completely true to who she was in every action. She loved actively and tirelessly. That is the only way to be.