Kelley Swanson, 18, died last week of complications arising from septicemia, a rapidly progressing blood disease. Family and friends gathered at T.C. Williams High School this week to remember her persistence and headstrong nature, her unyielding love of soccer and her ebullient personality.
"Kelley, a dynamo sparkplug," said Sanden Swanson, her father. "She was about four-foot-eleven, but we called her five foot to make her feel better. I called her my little five-foot wannabe."
Her diminutive size could barely contain a larger-than-life presence, her tenacious spirit on the soccer field or her desire to help those in need. Every Sunday, Kelley and her twin sister would help disabled athletes as part of the Youth Opportunity Sports.
"Her desire to help others started at a very early age," said her father. "When all the other kids would run out to the playground, she would stay behind and help push a wheelchair."
To honor Kelley's life, the Swansons have decided to donate her bank account to Youth Opportunity Sports. The tribute will venerate her lifelong commitment to helping those in need, providing comfort to the afflicted and generally being a good sport.
"I think she disliked people not having a chance," said Margaret Swanson, her mother. "That's why she was so interested in buddy sports — because she didn't think of them as kids with special needs. She just saw an opportunity to have fun, and help others have fun."
SOCCER WAS HER passion, and she became obsessed with the game at the age of five. Later, her high school jersey would bear the number 5. Her first team was the Purple Ds, later known by opponents as the "Dreaded Purple Ds." She was a master of slide tackles, and field conditions were of no concern to her. At T.C. Williams, Kelley and her twin sister Katey were co-captains of the T.C. Williams varsity women's soccer team.
"She was my best friend," said Katey. "We would fight and then two minutes later, we'd be singing together. That's just how things were."
Katey remembers driving around Alexandria with Kelley, the car stereo blaring. Kelley would belt out a tune at maximum volume. Katey would sing along, laughing at Kelley's sarcastic sense of humor and her blunt personality.
"We did everything together, and you don't think that tomorrow she might not be around so you'd better remember every moment," she said. "It's difficult to pick out a special moment because there were so many of them."
T.C. WILLIAMS Principal John Porter remembered Kelley as an outstanding student — a soccer player whose sunny disposition off the field contributed to the community of students.
"One of the things I remember most about her is her smile," he said. "It was the most endearing friendly smile you'd ever want to see."
At Tuesday's memorial service, speakers remembered her uncompromising spirit — a girl known alternatively as "KellBell," "Twinner" or "Curly Kelley." The service was a time for family members, friends and teachers to remember the impact Kelley made on Alexandria.
"It's been so comforting to know that there is all this support from the community, and I would like to thank everyone," said Kelley's mother. "The community was really reaching back, and I know that Kelley would appreciate it."