Submitted by LT Caitlin Hill, Val’s friend and W4V Advisory Board Member:
I met Val during a sports period over plebe summer at the Naval Academy…You know those moments when you meet someone who is going to be an immediate impact on your life, but it comes at you with a slap to the face? That was Valerie’s introduction into my life. You see, two other teammates and I had this brilliant idea that we could sneak away and leave early, but Val caught us. Oops! Let’s just say that the three of us quickly learned some valuable plebe lessons (mostly, never get caught). All three of us were still nervous to start lacrosse with her when she returned from a Fall semester abroad. That worry quickly left. We became instant friends with Val and she actually became my N* for the Spring season (the “Big” to my “Little”). I admired her for so many reasons and counted on her mentorship. Val always had this unwavering faith in people, her friends, our team, and in me. Valerie inspired me in so many ways and her light continues to guide me every day. Through the ups and downs of life and sisterhood, Val’s motto of “Adapt and Overcome” is always the reminder that no matter what the challenge, I will rise higher.
It is this same light that has kept me involved with the Wings for Val Foundation and especially this blog. It’s how I came to read what Allison, Val’s sister, had to say about their trip to Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon. At the time I was deployed on the USS Carl Vinson but forwarded the article to my sister because I liked the message it had. Both Kelsey and I have wanted to travel for years but neither of us put much effort into it. There was always school. Or work. Or some other commitment. But after reading Allison’s post, Kelsey and I began to seriously plan, together, for the first time.
Ireland has always been a dream vacation for both of us, but it was a distant thought that was planned individually and only as a potential trip in the future. Never did I think that I would be able to go at this point in my military career, let alone, with my sister. You see, as fraternal twins, the more Kelsey and I grew up the more different we became – maybe it was because we were twins and wanted to be seen as individuals – but it seemed when one of us went right the other went left. In all seriousness, even I am right handed and she is left handed. Kelsey was the quiet, reader and theater type, while I was the loud, outgoing and athletic side. Our interests rarely aligned. However, on those rare occasions they did we always had a great time together, even despite the tiffs along the way. But distance and our busy lives meant that those rare occasions stayed very rare.
It wasn’t that we didn’t want to spend time together; life simply kept getting in the way. Reading Allison’s blog changed how I thought about it. We don’t have time, we make time. It became important to us that we make the time to take the trip. It wasn’t easy – we changed destinations and dates multiple times. It came as no surprise that when we finally committed to going to Ireland and booked our tickets, it was dubbed the “Adapt and Overcome Adventure.” I like to think it was Valerie’s spirit shining through into both our hearts as we planned our first vacation together!
(LT Caitlin “TAG” Mandrin Hill)
(Navy Women’s Lacrosse #15 Retired)
More updates on their adventure to come!