Just 15 years old, Robyn Essler had already made a lasting impression on the Garrison community.
In addition to bringing home a Class B state cross country championship last fall, the freshman was an active member in Future Farmers of America, played piano and trumpet and volunteered in church activities.
So when the teen with the big smile and sunny disposition was killed in a collision with a fuel truck on March 22, it rocked a community that had become fond of its champion.
Garrison’s Robyn?Essler runs during the Class B state cross country meet last October in?Fargo. Essler, who won the race to become a state champion as a freshman, was killed in a motor vehicle accident on March 22. Photo courtesy of David Samson/ The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead
"The last couple of days are two of the most saddest, most depressing days I've ever encountered," said Garrison athletic director Bill Melaas on Monday. "There's a lot of sadness. People like Robyn don't come along very often."
The North Dakota Highway Patrol said Essler was driving about 1.5 miles east of Garrison on Highway 37 when she crossed the center line. The truck tried to avoid the collision by steering right, but it wasn't enough and Essler was ejected from the car.
Melaas, who also serves as the school's cross country and track and field coach, said he remembers Essler as a good competitor and an even better person.
"She was rare, a very special athlete," Melaas said. "A very gifted lady in so many ways. Just a good, good person."
In a preview for the state cross country meet in the Oct. 21, 2011, edition of The Minot Daily News, Essler made known her outlook on life.
"I really don't think too much about competition," she said. "I like to run. I enjoy it.
"At the end of the day, I think it's more important to do what I love rather than trying to beat everybody or make it really competitive."
She won state that weekend, quickly becoming a hometown hero. And Essler didn't win despite her feelings about competition; she won because of them.
"I was blessed to spend some quality time with such a high quality of individual," Melaas said. "She really was that. She had a heart of gold."
Essler had just concluded a basketball season that saw her miss time with a sprained ankle. She also had an injured hamstring and a hip flexor.
But as soon as her ankle was healed and she was able to run, Essler was back out there running "four to six miles a day," and Melaas said she was never arrogant or overconfident - just humble, helpful and always striving to be the ultimate teammate.
"For as young as she was, she wasn't boastful about it," Melaas said. "She always wanted to help out. Her sense of humor was that way. She was an exceptional teammate. She made others around her better."
An honor student, Essler was excelling at life before tragedy struck. She was preparing to compete in the mile and two-mile this spring.
"It's not just school; it's community," Melaas said. "She touched a lot of people's lives. You bring a state championship to your hometown, to your community - people that didn't even know her were touched in that way. There were so many of those kinds of things."
Chris Aarhus is the sports editor of The Minot Daily News. He can be reached by e-mail at caarhus@minot