“She’s open to new people and new cultures and new ways of thinking,” Jeff said. “So I love exploring and traveling with her for that reason.”
McKenna’s been on her fair share of trips abroad, including to China and Tanzania with her father and sister, and Germany on her own for a foreign exchange program: an experience that took courage and finesse to do, her sister said.
And that’s only the beginning for McKenna.
“We’ll probably never see her because she’ll be traveling all over,” Bailey said, “saving animals.”
McKenna has always maintained her dream of protecting endangered animals. She’s volunteered as much as possible for various animal charities, joined and donated to the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and even has become a vegetarian, which was not the easiest achievement for a meat-lover.
“I don’t think any of us who knew her eating habits thought she could do it, but she hasn’t looked back,” Jeff said.
Her grandmother, Sydney, is extremely proud of her granddaughter for sticking to the vegetarian diet, even though it can be a challenge (especially with her diabetes).
But McKenna’s never one to back down from any challenge.
“I think her biggest accomplishment is pushing past all her illnesses, all her setbacks — she never lets it slow her down,” Bailey said.
McKenna has had a number of hospital stays and physical ailments since she was a young girl. She’s been diagnosed with dysautonomia, meningitis and type 1 diabetes, among others. The former caused her to have upwards of ten fainting spells in a single day, while the latter completely changed her life.
“She doesn’t act like a victim to her illness,” Sydney said. “She might be mad about them, she might be frustrated, but she doesn’t do a victim whiny thing and that’s very admirable.”
“I think all fathers love their children, but I don’t think all fathers like their kids. I really, really like her.”
In fact, McKenna became an ambassador for the Tour de Cure not long after she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As an ambassador she was a face for diabetes and spoke to crowds about her experiences as being a child with the disease. She also raised money for the charity.
“She could bring in a lot of money, that girl,” Bailey said. “She knew how to work a crowd. And she put a smile on your face as she did it.”
McKenna’s cousin, Kendall Wyllie, said she’s proud of McKenna for all the advocacy work she did (and does) on behalf of the diabetes community. And, she said, McKenna’s resilience inspires her.
“She had modeled for me how to get up after life has knocked you down,” Kendall said.
A FIRE WITHIN
McKenna went on to graduate high school with a high GPA, having been accepted to all the colleges she applied to.
“I want to tell her I’m proud of her,” Bailey said, “and I support all her decisions — even if we argue about them.”