‘Every day right now is painful’

Former track star was loved by community, showed empathy, kindness to all, mother says



Victoria Waltz, a friend of Lauren McCluskey, cries as she mourns the loss of the Pullman High School graduate and reflects on the happy memories Waltz shared with her on Nov. 1 during a vigil.

HANNAH WELZBACKER, Evergreen reporter

Family, friends, coaches, community members and strangers sang “This Little Light of Mine” in harmony at a celebration of life for Lauren McCluskey on Sunday.

University of Utah President Ruth Watkins and Kyle Kepler, Utah track and field/cross country head coach, were among the hundreds of mourners who packed into the Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Event Center to remember the 21-year-old track and field athlete and Pullman High School graduate.

Jill McCluskey, McCluskey’s mother, stood beside her husband Matt McCluskey at the ceremony. Her daughter was special from the beginning, she said.

“She was driven, smart, athletically gifted and beautiful,” she said. “She was hardworking and resilient.”

Jill said many people who didn’t get to know Lauren didn’t understand her, but that is what made her different and special. She also said Lauren’s sensitive nature and empathy were her superpowers.

“These abilities allowed her to really see people and show kindness to them,” Jill said.

Her daughter’s kindness was an inspiration to herself and others, Jill said.

“Every day right now is painful for us because I know I can’t pick up the phone and call you,” she said. “I can’t go on mom jogs with you when you come home from college, I miss you.”

Many speakers talked about Lauren’s passion for track and field. A large photo of her, her blue PHS letterman jacket, red Utah jacket and other memorabilia were displayed near the front of the stage.

Friends from college reflected on her love for singing karaoke, dancing, cats and how much she loved unplanned Target trips.

“She would call me at any time of the day or night and ask, ‘Do you want to go to Target?’ ” one friend said. “It was her way of spending time with us, walking around the store looking for nothing in particular.”

Another who had known Lauren since they were kids in ballet school said she would miss her laugh the most, describing how Lauren would laugh with her whole body and “without a care in the world.”

Two of Lauren’s former Utah teammates said she was reserved when it came to talking about herself but she always wanted to hear more about others.

She was dedicated to school, athletics, her faith and friends, the teammate said.

“Lauren was a teammate that everyone loves to have,” the teammate said. “She was always dependable. She was almost always early, sometimes a little too early, but that just made her Lauren.”

Kepler described Lauren as genuine, sweet, respectful and coachable. She had a relentless determination to improve and achieve excellence every day, he said.

“Lauren was most definitely the person who looked in the mirror and asked, ‘How can I be a better person today than I was yesterday?’ ” Kepler said. “And then she went out and tried to find that answer every day.”

Kepler read part of an email from one of Lauren’s former professors at Utah. The professor wrote that Lauren always inspired those around her to say, “I like me best when I am with you. I want to see you again.”

Watkins said she was honored to posthumously award a communication degree to Lauren and a scholarship fund established in her name has already collected more than enough money to be endowed. She said nearly 500 donors have raised $50,000 with contributions from around the world including Canada, Great Britain and Belgium.

Instead of flowers, the family suggested donating to that memorial fund or to the planned Lauren McCluskey Cat Wing at the Whitman County Humane Society.