John Gibson, head coach of the women’s soccer team at Springfield College, knew something was wrong when he heard a knocking on his door at five in the morning.
“When the phone is ringing, and you’re staying at your mother’s house and she’s tapping at the door at five in the morning, you know something has happened,” said Gibson. Gibson was staying with his mother in England.
That phone call brought terrible news. Kate Richardson, a member of his soccer team and a member of the class of 2011, had passed away unexpectedly. She was just 21 years old.
Richardson, a physical therapy student who was set to enter the final two years of the program, was working at a rafting company in Tennessee for the summer. While out cycling on July 12, Richardson was struck by a truck around 9:40 p.m.
The driver of the truck, Cocke County Election Commissioner Dan Ford, was charged with driving under the influence and vehicular homicide. Although Richardson was not wearing a helmet, Tennessee Highway Patrol reported it would not have saved her.
Richardson was riding alongside Rachel Warren of Seattle, Wash. Warren was not injured in the collision.
Now, just over two months after the tragic loss, Springfield College is moving forward and keeping Kate Richardson close to the heart.
Those close to Richardson, particularly students in the physical therapy program, remember her for her warm smile that affected everyone.
“I still picture her smile,” said Maggie Daingerfield. “Her smile could just make your day better no matter what was going on.” Daingerfield was Richardson’s resident assistant during Richardson’s junior year.
“She was just such a fun-loving and positive person,” said Daingerfield. “We used to talk about how she wanted to leave the PT program and become a veterinarian. Her love for animals was just so evident.”
Along with an unforgettable smile, Richardson also helped PT students such as Kelly Murray deal with the stress of the major.
“She was a really laidback person and kind of had this calming presence,” said Murray. “She made you feel like you were always on the same level and she was never above you.”
“During presentations, if she messed up, she would just laugh, and everyone else would laugh. She would just go with the flow.”
She was a fixture on the soccer field as well, and there, her loss is constantly apparent.
“The players did a good job sticking together and being there for one another, and since we’ve been back, I’ve met with the returning players and we’ve talked about it, and they told the incoming freshmen,” said Gibson.
“I don’t know if they showed what they thought when we first got back together. But I think it was good that we met because I told them, even if when we get together and play you might not think about her, it doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten her.”
“And you’re not being disrespectful if you’re laughing or having a good time, because life goes on, and you’re never going to forget her in a larger sense.”
Richardson, or “Richie” as she was known on the team, played for Gibson and the Pride for three seasons after transferring from the University of Vermont.
The team held a moment of silence at the first home game of the season in honor of Richardson. Springfield’s jerseys will also feature a number seven right over the heart. The home whites have a black seven while the road maroon jersey carries one in gold.
“To wear Richie’s number is an honor,” said senior captain Jackie Moscardelli. “She was the hardest worker and the strongest person that I knew.”
“I know she wouldn’t like the attention, but to me, it is a personal reminder that I can always work harder and push others to work harder because that’s what Richie did for all of her teammates.”
Richardson’s family was presented with their daughter’s home number seven jersey at the home game as well. The team has her maroon jersey framed.
“Her smile was so warm, and she really was just a fabulous person,” said Gibson. “There are some people you just get on with, and I got on with her.”
“She really was just a nice kid. She took time for everybody and she worked so hard at everything. And as a player, she was very smart.”
Although Richardson was not the biggest or most gifted athlete, she thought the game through. She did not get beat despite her lack of quickness and she never surrendered the ball even though she was not the most gifted technically.
Gibson said her play on the field almost “epitomized her as a person.”
“She always made the best of what she had,” said Gibson. “And as Shakespeare said, ‘play well your part, therein lies the glory,’ and that was her.”
During her senior year, Richardson chose to miss a game against longtime rival Wheaton College to spend time with a friend back home who was dying of cancer, a true testament to who she was as a person.
“Her friend didn’t have very long left, and she made the decision to go home and be with her,” said Gibson. “She missed one of the biggest games of her senior year, and that’s just who she was.”
Corey Hanlon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org