The last week in June of 2017, Eliza went on a mission trip. She and a few of her friends traveled to the Florida Gulf Coast with an organization called Lighthouse Family Retreat. The organization provides an opportunity for families of children with cancer to get away to the beach and reconnect with one another. Eliza and the rest of the volunteers played with and built relationships with the children attending the retreat. One of the little girls had red hair and glasses just like Eliza had when she was younger, and Eliza texted her mom asking for pictures of herself at the same age to show to her new friend. Eliza returned from the mission trip late at night on July 1, exhausted but at the same time excited to tell her parents about the trip and eager to convince her mom to go with her on the same mission trip the next year.
Eliza played soccer for much of her life. During one big game in the fall of 2016, the score was tied between Eliza’s team, United Futbol Academy, and Lanier Soccer Academy. Eliza’s team needed to win the game in order to tie the results for the season, and the score was tied 1-1.
Eliza was a defender and was on the left side of the net when the ball came flying towards the goal. As Eliza attempted to kick the ball away from the net, it instead bounced off of her leg and into the goal. This was the first and only time in all her seasons playing club soccer that Eliza had scored a goal on her own team, and she stood frozen in the middle of the field with shoulders slumped forward, staring open-mouthed at her mom on the sidelines. She was rendered useless for a good eight to 10 minutes of the game after that goal, and while she eventually managed to get back into the game, in the end her team lost.
Parents of her teammates and even parents from the other team came up to Eliza to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, but her coach teased her for the mistake, and Eliza’s silence made her disappointment evident to her mom on the car ride home. But by the next game the following day, Eliza had recovered and was back with a vengeance, more determined than ever to play well for the sake of her team.
Eliza was always the one to lead the chant for her team, and she would scream at the top of her lungs, “WHO ARE WE? UFA! WHAT ARE WE? FAMILY!” as she put her arms around the teammates on either side of her and bounced up and down on the balls of her feet. Her enthusiasm was infectious, getting the rest of the girls on the team excited to play the game and to follow her example by doing their best on the field.
Eliza was training extra hard to try to increase her speed and agility on the soccer field, and she was beginning to see those efforts pay off in her practices and games. She was planning on continuing to play soccer in college, which was yet another reason the extra training was so important to her.
On the same day as her funeral, Eliza’s friends held a memorial at her school, Lambert High. Students sang songs and spoke about Eliza, recounting how much she meant to each of them. In their speeches about her and in the cards and letters they gave to her family, her friends brought up memory after memory of Eliza.
Eliza was loud when she spoke, and her laugh was just as loud. She would text her friends in all capital letters, not because she was screaming but because she was excited. Message after message to her friends would be in all caps, her joy at corresponding with her friends slipping out through the excited words. She also loved to FaceTime her friends, even when they were in class. Once she FaceTimed her friend Rachel when she was in the middle of a test at school and when told Rachel couldn’t talk at the moment simply exclaimed, “Okay well then call me back!” Even without Eliza in their midst, her friends still text one another in all capital letters and FaceTime one another — even in class — two practices that Eliza started and her friends haven’t been able to give up.