Friday, January 14, 2011

Mourning Khristin

TigerBlog was staring at the screen yesterday morning in the front of the room as a slide with the names of Princeton athletes who were representing their teams as part of a student-athlete wellness leadership group.

A few minutes earlier, TB had learned the unthinkable news that Khristin Kyllo, a freshman softball player, had passed away earlier that morning, and now he was in the Department of Athletics' monthly staff meeting, where the news had not yet reached.

As he looked at the slide with all the names, TB tried to figure out which athlete went with which team, a task that wasn't always simple.

Princeton has nearly 1,000 athletes spread out across 38 varsity teams. Back when TB covered many sports, he got to know a great deal more of these athletes personally than he does today, when he only directly covers men's lacrosse.

Some of the names and faces are more familiar than others, and many of Princeton's athletes are just what the list of wellness leaders were: names on the roster or headshots on the webpage.

TigerBlog sees them all the time. They walk into Jadwin or into Caldwell or around campus. They wear their Princeton Athletics gear, or ice packs on their shoulders and knees.

Sometimes, TB will recognize them from their headshots and know instantly a great deal about them, from their athletic accomplishments to their hometowns and high schools to their academic honors to many other kinds of information.

Usually, when TB passes by, he gives the obligatory "hey, how are you" and then moves on his way, as they move on theirs.

Only they're not just the person on the webpage. They're all individuals, with different backgrounds, different goals, different dreams.

They play vastly different sports, from America's most mainstream games like football, basketball and baseball to the more exotic, like fencing and squash. They come from all over the country, and all over the world, for that matter.

TigerBlog sees them all gather at freshman athlete orientation and assumes he'll see them nearly four years later, at the PVC senior athlete banquet. The overwhelming majority of them will be there, and the ones who aren't TB assumes won't be there because of things like general attrition or or some who will leave Princeton for whatever reason.

Death? That's not something TB is ever thinking about when it comes to these athletes.

They're so young and so well-conditioned and so confident that they look indestructible. Every now and then comes the grim reminder that nobody is.

TigerBlog never met Khristin Kyllo. She was one of the many Princeton athletes whose path never intersected with TB's.

After learning of her death, though, TB spent much of yesterday getting to know about her. And trying to make sense of something so tragic and so unbearably sad.

He learned how she had battled seizures since last spring, how she had spent time in the hospital, how her condition had doctors confused, how she suffered from memory loss. He was struck by a story about a time she went to a favorite restaurant and never realized she'd been there many times before and how a teacher at her high school in northern Virginia spent time with her helping her relearn subjects she had already had.

TigerBlog learned that eventually she was able to return to finish her high school softball season and graduate. He knew that her high school boyfriend tried to recreate their prom in her hospital.

It all led TB to wonder about more than he learned. How was she doing at Princeton? What was the significance of the unusual spelling of her first name (K-H-R-I-S-T-I-N)? What would her future with the softball team have been? What could her parents possibly be going through? What were those friends closest to her thinking?

He thought about all the times that he'd probably walked past her on the balcony of Jadwin, probably carrying a softball bat or a glove.

And he thought about the day that the freshmen softball players came in to get their headshots taken, the very headshot that TB saw on the webpage.

Why this headshot? Why this young woman, wearing her Princeton uniform for the first time, smiling broadly, thinking - hoping - that whatever had caused her so many problems a few months ago was a thing of the past and that her best days were right around the corner.

TB was haunted by this quote that he read in a story about her from last spring, coming from her father:
"The scariest thing is that you don't know the future," Tom Kyllo said. "You have a daughter who has everything -- athletic ability, intelligence -- then within a matter of minutes, it may be all gone."

A year ago, she was a 17-year-old whose future included an Ivy League education, Division I athletics and then who knows what?

And then yesterday, she was an 18-year-old who died in her sleep.

By all accounts, her death was peaceful.

It was also 70 years too soon.

1 comment:

JH said...

Thanks for this. I did not know her either, but I can't seem to shake her from my mind. I think I will stop trying,I like her there.