The wooden cross on the side of the road is a daily reminder for Kelsey Niccum.
“Sometimes I just go there and cry,” Niccum said.
In October 2015, Niccum lost her 17-year-old best friend, Emilie Harnish, in a tragic two-vehicle accident at a rural intersection in Indiana not far from Niccum’s family home in Wabash County. Nearly two years since that tragic day, Niccum wears her friend’s number and initials on her knee pads as a way to keep her friend close while playing the sport they both loved. She and her teammates at Grant County Volleyball Club keep Emilie alive by sharing stories of her selflessness and genuine love for others.
“I’m always talking about her,” Niccum said. “It’s almost been two years and every day her name comes out of my mouth.”
That heartrending day in 2015 was not the end for Emilie – rather, it was a new beginning for the many lives her organs have saved in the last 20 months. There’s a 3-year-old boy in Virginia; a 12-year-old girl in Indiana; an 18-year-old boy in Iowa; a 49-year-old woman in Indiana; and countless others across the nation.
All alive. All well. And all because of Emilie.
“We were praying for a miracle for Emilie and we got four,” said Mollie Harnish, Emilie’s sister, in a November 2015 interview with Derrick Thomas of RTV6. “We got four miracles.”
Athletes at the AAU Girls’ Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando felt Emilie’s lasting impact last week, as members of her former club gifted bracelets to opposing teams with the message Donate to Life – Be an Organ Donor etched alongside #EmilieStrong.
More than the bracelets, though, the gifts contained the story of Emilie’s life – and her death – in hopes that more young athletes will make the choice to one day save one of the 22 people who die every day awaiting an organ transplant.
“We decided when we came to [AAU Nationals] that we would give out these bracelets so everybody would know about her,” said Daysha Havens, co-Director of Grant County Volleyball Club. “We just want to keep her alive and keep her with us.”
The team hosted the inaugural #EmilieStrong Invitational Tournament at Mississinewa High School this year to benefit the Donate to Life Campaign in Indiana. Coach Lori Elson, who teaches physical education at Mississinewa High School and coached Harnish for several years, uses Emilie’s story to teach her students about the importance of giving back.
“As tragic as [her death] was, [Emilie] is still teaching kids the selfless act of giving,” said Lori Elson, co-Director of Grant County Volleyball Club. “Especially being an athlete, your organs are so healthy and they can help so many other people.”
The Grant County Volleyball Club encourages all athletes to visit https://www.donatelife.net/register/ and make the decision to donate life.
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