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A fitting memorial

By: R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
June 17, 2007
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photo - Family and friends of Rachel Wade gathered at her gravesite Saturday afternoon to mark her 24th birthday. Wade died two years after being struck by lightning in  2003. The tree near her grave was struck by lightning the same summer. Photo by (KEVIN KRECK, THE GAZETTE)
Family and friends of Rachel Wade gathered at her gravesite Saturday afternoon to mark her 24th birthday. Wade died two years after being struck by lightning in 2003. The tree near her grave was struck by lightning the same summer. Photo by (KEVIN KRECK, THE GAZETTE) 
The venerable ponderosa pine never recovered from the lightning strike four years ago, and it finally died over the winter. For the family of Rachel Wade, the similarities between the story of the tree and of the young woman buried in its shadow at Evergreen Cemetery seem more than a coincidence.
Wade was struck by lightning in July 2003. Despite massive brain injury that deprived her of speech, movement or any muscle control, she hung on for 3½ years and died in December. She was 23. Her family is trying to raise $10,000 to have the dead tree, which stands like a 40-foot obelisk, made into a memorial, to share a story that has inspired so many with everyone who visits the cemetery. “We lost so much of Rachel’s ability to communicate and be with us, but when she passed, I just lost that hope she might get better,” said her mother, Rita Wade, as friends and family visited her grave Saturday for what would have been her 24th birthday. “It was just so out-of-the-blue,” she said. “Nobody wants to see a young person struck down.” On July 25, 2003, during an afternoon thunderstorm over Gleneagle Golf Club, Rachel Wade was struck in the head while she raced in a golf cart for shelter. A college student and athlete, her survival was miraculous. Thousands followed her struggle and her family’s in The Gazette and on her family’s Web site at www.rachelwade.com. When she died, her body was generally healthy, and her parents had been prepared to care for her for years to come. “Who knows? Maybe God said, ‘Rachel, you’ve suffered enough. We’ll give you a rest, because this is not a way to live life on this Earth,’” Rita Wade said. At Rachel Wade’s funeral, her mother asked cemetery manager William DeBoer about the tree. DeBoer had been looking to have some sort of memorial made from the tree, and when he learned both it and Wade died from lightning, he readily agreed to let it be for her. It was hit by lightning the same summer she was. “It’s just feet away from where Rachel’s buried,” DeBoer said. “It’s almost too much of a coincidence. You can’t write stuff like that.” The family has contributed about $2,000 toward the $12,000 that will be needed for the memorial. They plan to have three scenes depicting angels, with the theme of hope rising from the ashes, and hope the community will help make it a reality. “It really is a story of hope and how we should carry on in the midst of circumstances,” said Rachel’s sister Brienne. “Even in the midst of something tragic, there can be hope and there can be good things,” she said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-1605 or scott.rappold@gazette.com HOW TO DONATE Evergreen Cemetery is accepting donations to help raise $10,000 to make a memorial out of the tree near Rachel Wade’s grave. Checks can be made out to Evergreen Cemetery, 1005 S. Hancock Ave., Colorado Springs, CO, 80903. Write “Rachel’s Tree” in the memo portion of the check. LIGHTNING AWARENESS Colorado is the second-deadliest state in the nation for lightning strikes, because of its elevation and the propensity for severe afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. According to the National Weather Service, 30 people were killed by lightning in Colorado between 1997 and 2006. Only Florida had more deaths in that period, 71. El Paso County is the most dangerous spot, with nine deaths and 51 injuries from lightning since 1980. The weather service, which kicks off Lightning Safety Awareness Week on June 24, offers safety tips at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.
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