By Bailey Pennycuff / Co-Sports Editor

Every life is limited, and every person has a number of breaths they will take in their lifetime. Death is inevitable.

On Sept. 30, Rebecca Atuma died due to heart failure. Atuma was the mother of Hutchinson Community College sophomore women’s soccer player Esther Karhayu.

Karhayu can recall every detail of the moment when she heard that she had lost her mother.

“I found out the news when I was in my Intro to Sports Medicine class,” Karhau said. “I had gone to the bathroom and then I saw I had missed my sister’s calls. So I called her, and she told me the bad news. I couldn’t help it – I stayed in the washroom for five more minutes trying to compose myself. Then went back to class, finished my class and went straight to my room.”

The amount of strength required to go back to class, and sit there the rest of the time is immense.

Karhayu came to HutchCC from Mombasa, Kenya, and had not seen her mother in quite some time. In March, when COVID-19 hit and the college shut down, Karhayu went to live with teammate Marah Franke and her family in Derby until school started back up. The Frankes have been reliable for Karhayu in any time of need.

“Esther has quickly become a part of my family, as an additional sister, and I’m so thankful she was able to stay with us,” Franke said. “As far as helping her and her family out, we have made sure Esther has been completely taken care of while in the United States, away from her family. Everything she has needed help with financially, we have figured out ways to help her.”

After Esther found out about her mother’s passing, on her way back to her dorm, she saw Franke. Immediately, Franke knew something was wrong.

“She seemed really upset about something when we acknowledged each other, so I sent her a text before my class was supposed to start, asking if she was OK,” Franke said. “She texted me back that she had just received a text from her sister that her mother had passed, so I immediately left class and went to her room for the rest of the day.”

Karhayu was thankful for Franke’s hugs and kindness, but it was more than that.

“Marah’s family has helped me a lot through this hard time. They’ve been there for me even way before even this whole incident happened. They are my second family here,” Karhayu said. “To be honest, without them, I don’t think I would be here and staying strong.”

She needed that strength after learning of the loss of her mother.

“My initial reaction was that I was so heartbroken. Like one of my pillars had been broken. At that point, all I wanted to do is just be right next to her, which is impossible,” Karhayu said.

Franke and her family knew that Karhayu’s family was facing tragedy, so they decided to help financially. They had set up a GoFundMe account where people could click on a link and donate money to the family.

“It had raised $4,000 in just a few days,” Franke said. “This money will help Esther and her family to not be concerned about specific finances during this tragedy. While this might not cover every expense, it definitely ensures that Esther will be able to enjoy time with her father and sister when she eventually returns back home,” Franke said. “The GoFundMe has expired, so information about how to help Esther out would be found through myself, my mother, or our soccer coach at Hutch, Sammy Lane.”

Lane, the only coach in team history, said he realized that because of this tragedy, his team has come together more than ever.
“That’s just an amazing thing,” Lane said. “We had girls from last year’s team donating to her fund. I think that’s pretty cool. Several had made sizable donations. She’s so popular and likable to all her teammates, she’s genuinely kind hearted, it makes sense why people want to help her. It’s really just amazing how it forms over the course of the year, they are all there for her during this time. Almost an act of God, they definitely eased the burden for their family.”

Not only that, but Lane has also realized a lesson that could stick with his players for the rest of their lives.

“We’re living in crazy times, whether you can make it out of dorms for practice or not, I think they also reflected on their own family, made them realize that what we’re worried about just isn’t as important as we think,” Lane said.

Karhayu and her family decided it was best if she waited to go back to Mombasa over the winter break.

“It’s just my dad and my sister at home. It was a shock to all of us,”Karhayu said. “The news hit all of us badly but I am glad they are coping OK and my mom is resting peacefully.”

Karhayu had most of her plans about her future made involving her mother, or at least she wanted her mother to be a part of those plans.

“The death of my mother motivates me to make her proud. I know she would be happy if I focused on my career and soccer as well in order to have a better future for myself,” Karhayu said. “I’d say it has impacted my soccer career both positively and negatively. I now want to push myself harder into getting into a professional level. But, then sometimes I lack the strength to do all these things, because I always played so that she can see me improve and do better in the sport that I love the most. But since she is not there anymore, I sometimes don’t see the point of it.”

Above all, Karhayu knows her mother is resting in peace. The courage she has is seemingly boundless as she continues to live her life without her mother.

“I just know she’s proud of me and she always will be. She believed in me and supported me. I miss her and I think about her everyday,” Karhayu said. “I pray God gives me strength everyday.”

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