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Sarah Jane Weaver: What I know now that I learned from a little girl on a high dive

Years before her death, Katy Doak, right, attends a party with her friend, Elizabeth Weaver.

Years before her death, Katy Doak, right, attends a party with her friend, Elizabeth Weaver.

Courtesy Doak family

Eight-year-old Katy Doak stood on the edge of a high dive determined to jump.

Fresh out of the second grade and one of my daughter’s friends, Katy had just returned from Florida — a trip made possible by Make-A-Wish Foundation. She had received a special new swimsuit, and we were celebrating with a swim day.

Katy and her friends had waited in line to ride the water slide, but the young employee working at the recreation center pool had turned Katy away. The air-tight swimsuit reaching her neck and covering the top of her arms and legs — as well as protecting the pump on her back that delivered life-saving medicine into her body through a tube in her chest — was filled with air. The employee had been adamant: Flotation devices were not allowed on the slide.

While her mother went into the recreation center to seek permission for Katy to ride the slide, Katy took matters into her own hands. Rather than wait, she climbed the stairs of the high dive.

Everyone tried to will Katy back down. But she refused. Suddenly, she jumped — and belly-flopped into the pool.

After Katy emerged from the water, I watched her mother frantically check her line and her pump.

Then I looked at Katy. She did not look defeated, but empowered. She wore a satisfied look that shouted, “No one will tell me what I am or am not capable of doing.”

My family never knew Katy when she was not sick. Our daughter Elizabeth came home from first grade telling us about her new friend. She said the kids at school were not allowed to touch Katy’s backpack.

We soon learned Katy had a pump in the backpack that delivered life-sustaining medicine for Pulmonary Hypertension.

Eventually, Katy would receive a double-lung transplant. She also battled Post-Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disease and leukemia — probably caused by the lymphoma treatment.

Yet in those years she also ran the elementary school 5K, became a beautiful dancer, participated in countless school activities and projects and went to prom.

Faith overcomes fear.

She was never defined by the challenges she faced. Instead we knew her for her determination to move forward in spite of them.

Faith overcomes fear. That’s what I know now that I learned from a little girl with a pump in a backpack and a determined spirit.

Ten years after the high-dive jump, when Katy’s prognosis became terminal at age 18, she feared she would die before having a chance to make her mark in mortality.

It was during Katy’s funeral in December of 2017 that Elizabeth decided to serve a mission. Six months later — a year ago this month — Elizabeth began her service in the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission.

I don’t think Katy was ever aware of the huge effect she had on others or her example to her friends. But her impact on Elizabeth was just one of her many lifetime “marks.”

“I think a lot about Katy on my mission,” my daughter recently wrote from Honduras. “I remember how determined she was and how when she made a decision, she stuck to it and never gave up until she completed it. She never doubted. I try to do the same — work hard and never doubt. She motivates me to work hard.”

Like Katy, we often don’t know the reach of our influence. Missionaries plant seeds that are harvested years after they leave an area. Latter-day Saints give talks that spark a flame of testimony they may never see burn. Ministering brothers and sisters serve with consistent and determined effort for years before they see results. And parents offer prayers realized decades down the road.

Each of us find ourselves at different times standing on the edge of a high dive.

In those moments of discouragement, may we all look forward with faith and take a determined leap.

— Sarah Jane Weaver is the Church News editor

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