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Photos: Gallery | Colorado Springs Gazette, News

The Gazette's most inspirational stories of 2017

A list of people who have inspired others with their passion, generosity, goodwill, strength and perseverance.

For more Gazette lists, check out our lists page

Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan 12 years ago. Del Toro miraculously survived third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body. He is the first airman to return to duty after being deemed 100 percent disabled. In February, he completed the final stage of his comeback: parachuting from a plane. 

Read more here.   

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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After no one accepted invitations to her autistic son's birthday party, Brandi Lake reached out to officers with the Fountain Police Department—who made it a day to remember.

Read more here.

Courtesy of the Fountain Police Department

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It took three surgeries to delicately and completely dissolve a blood clot on Westin Stieglitz' brain.  While recovering from the surgeries, Stieglitz  contracted a mononucleosis-type illness.

Despite being out of school—and the pool—for a month, he was able to compete in the state championship prelims in May, finishing up an impressive prep career.

Read more here.

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Autavius Ricks

Autavius Ricks was 14 years old and had been starved down to just 32 pounds when child welfare workers removed him and his five younger sisters from their biological parents. Years of abuse left Tavis unable to walk, talk or support the weight of his seizure-wracked body. He and his sisters found a new home—and hope— with Nancy Medlock and her husband Gary, who took in the girls in 2011, and Tavis in 2012.

Read more here.

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How a Vietnam veteran's carousel dream came true

Vietnam vet Scott Harrison has found peace from war trauma through his Carousel of Happiness. The carousel in Nederland, Colo. that was inspired by a music box he listened to between battles in the war. 

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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Undaunted by the back-to-back disasters that destroyed the ranch where she grew up, Leigh Ann Wolfe is working to rebuild—and reopen—the Flying W Ranch in 2018. 

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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Jaqueline Lundquist works to provide safe drinking water to communities in India where clean water is scarce. The former television reporter, shares India's water issues with her wide social network.

Read more here

Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

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Hospital staffers worked to get an Ethiopian truck driver back home to Texas after his identifying documents burned in a crash in Kiowa County in April. Bahta Wibshet, 36, who had no family in the United States, spent 11 days in the hospital.

Read more here.

Courtesy of UCHealth Memorial Hospital's Erin Emery

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After losing his girlfriend and his best friend to the streets, homeless vet Calvin Muzzy fell in love and quit drinking. In May, he and his wife moved from a spot under the Nevada Avenue bridge to an apartment complex northeast of Palmer Park—just in time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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719 Rocks!

Thousands of rocks painted with positive messages were randomly placed throughout the region as part of the 719 Rocks project, launched by Pine Creek High School teacher Jennifer Hayden Tews.

Read more here.

Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette

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 Colorado Springs woman's determination to better her life rewarded with scholarship

Va Leenia West started the registered medical assistant program last August at PIMA, when her family was homeless.  For her grit and determination to better her life, West was awarded a $5,000 scholarship.

Read more here.

Debbie Kelley, The Gazette

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In 2010, days after getting a routine mammogram, Cherie Cree was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. As a labor and delivery nurse for 35 years, she helped bring some 18,000 babies into the world —and credits her optimism as a key to living longer than expected with end-stage cancer. Cree died in March.

Read more here.

Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

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Bozoma Saint John

Bozoma Saint John, Uber's new chief brand officer, grew up in Colorado Springs, and graduated from Liberty High School in 1995.  Saint John is the oldest daughter of what was then the only Ghanaian immigrant family in Colorado Springs.

Read more here.

Courtesy of MAD Works Photography

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Raven Canon

Raven Canon was one of the most vocal and respected homeless advocates in Colorado Springs and the founder of the region's first street paper.  She died in March.

Read more here.

Mark Reis, The Gazette

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Pikes Peak Community College becomes happy haven for big family

Last year Mesa Ridge graduate Andrew Jaramillo became the first person in his family to earn a college degree—inspiring the rest of his family to pursue higher education.

Read more here.

Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette

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Beauty for Ashes Uganda

Brandi Lea of Colorado Springs is a co-founder of Beauty for Ashes Uganda, an organization that has helped more than 1,150 women and 6,500 children across Ugandan villages.

Read more here.

Photo by Branden Harvey, courtesy of Beauty for Ashes Uganda

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Harrison and Sierra high schools honored Fermin Vialpando before a rival game  in October. Vialpando died 11 years ago after collapsing on the field during a game against Ridgeview Academy.

Read more here.

Hugh Johnson, The Gazette

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For 26 years, Bob Tretheway helped provide gifts for thousands of needy children through Christmas Unlimited. He died in August.

Read more here.

Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette

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Carson Bird's widow tries to understand what can't be understood

Brittany Jean Pittman lost her husband, Carson Bird, to chondrosarcoma in November 2016. Pittman traveled to Colorado Springs in March to receive the Carson Bird Award at Air Force's football banquet in recognition of her steadfast courage.  Bird was one of the top cornerbacks in Air Force's history.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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Mother of the Mountains

Loretta McEllhiney is the mother of Colorado's biggest mountains. As the state's first and only "peak manager," the Forest Service worker has been struck by lightning several times while summiting the state's fourteeners. 

Read more here.

James Wooldridge, The Gazette

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 Colorado Springs altruistic kidney donor helps save a life

In February, Cody Maynard, an Indiana University student and Air Academy graduate, donated a kidney to an 18-month-old stranger. 

Read more here.

Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

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Teenager originates anti-suicide program that's gaining attention

In March, after struggling for years with suicidal thoughts, Colorado Springs D-20 student Macy Rae Klein  started  Project Reasons,  a suicide prevention resource for students and parents. 

Read more here.

Macy Klein and her mother, Ginger Klein. submitted photo

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Cartographer is on  a never-ending quest for understanding

Robert Houdek knows the local mountains perhaps better than anyone alive—he's famous for the Pikes Peak Atlas, the definitive map he revised after bushwhacking his way through remote territories.

Read more here.

Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

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 Pictures

Falcon sixth-grader Cheyenne Dyess is behind a national campaign to take childhood back from cancer.

Read more here.

Courtesy photo

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In May, six months after a crash near Calhan left him paralyzed and hospitalized for months, Dallas Dean graduated from Ellicott High School.

Read more here.

Erica Fellion, The Gazette

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Tibetan monks bring unspoken messages of unity and peace Colorado Springs

In September, as part of the "Sacred Art Tour," Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in south India came to Colorado Springs and spent several days creating a mandala— an intricate art pattern created with millions of grains of colored sand.

Read more here.

Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

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Steve Furman

Steve Furman, a Colorado Springs outdoorsman with incurable prostrate cancer, set out in September to document a seven-week trek to ascend the yet-unscaled Gorakh Himal mountain range in western Nepal, bordering Tibet.

Read more here.

Courtesy of Steve Furman

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Beloved and influential runner Michael Shafai dies

Michael Shafai  inspired people to run—and smile. The former president of the Pikes Peak Road Runners who spent 15 years fostering active lifestyles in the area's great outdoors, died unexpectedly in October.  

Read more here.

Carol Lawrence, The Gazette

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