Remembering a friend

Memorial: Garrison Forest riders bring home a trophy they founded in honor of a fellow student who died in a competition last year.

April 09, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The equestrian competition at Garrison Forest School yesterday was not just about which horse jumped with the most speed and accuracy.

It was also about remembering an accomplished 16-year-old rider from Owings Mills, Allison Taylor Stevens, who was killed in a riding accident nine months ago after her sophomore year at the school.

It was only fitting that the Garrison Forest riders won yesterday's Mid-Atlantic Jumper Show and that Allison's mother presented them with the Allison T. Stevens Perpetual Trophy -- which will be housed in a trophy room under construction on the school's campus in Owings Mills that also will bear her name.

"It's just ever more special taking the trophy home because it is in honor of Ally," said Lauren Gehl, 17, a Garrison Forest varsity rider from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who is close to the Stevens family. "We really came together and did it for Ally."

Yesterday's event had been months in the making.

The girls in the Garrison Forest riding club decided last fall that they wanted to do something to honor Allison.

They held a benefit horse show in October -- the largest in school history -- and raised several thousand dollars, part of which went to a memorial fund established by the school.

They put another $1,000 toward buying a Waterford crystal trophy and found a jeweler in Timonium, Albert S. Smyth Co., to donate the difference. An engraver spent months etching onto the facade an image of Allison and her horse, Gone Fishin', with whom she won many local and regional competitions.

"I think it honors Ally very well," said Ali Sutton, 17, one of Allison's best friends, who was with her at the horse show in Pennsylvania in July when she suffered the fatal fall.

The inscription on the back of the trophy came from something Garrison Forest riding director Cindy Bacon told the young riders at the start of the school year:

"May we put our horse's needs before our own, set goals and work hard to meet them, win with humility, lose with grace, learn from our defeats and above all be kind."

"I felt as though the words just wrote themselves, really," Bacon said.

Bacon said Allison was the most humble rider she knew -- someone who would ask her mother, Beth Stevens, to put her show ribbons in the trunk of the car because she did not want anyone to think she was bragging about her success.

"It all weighs very heavily on all of us still," Bacon said of Allison's death.

Allison's friends and family honored her yesterday in less-formal ways, too. They told stories about how she perpetually chewed the chin strap of her riding helmet, and how she forgot her riding boots for a competition in Virginia and begged her mother to drive there to deliver them -- because she did not want to bother anyone about borrowing a pair.

"The ripple effect from her death has been unlike anything I've been a part of before," said Beth Stevens, who spent the day at the riding ring yesterday with Allison's father, Michael; brother, Chris; and grandmother, who came from Ohio.

"This is all a long process in healing, part of the healing process for the girls and part of the healing process for us," Beth Stevens said.

She said she views the memorial trophy not with sadness but with joy, and as an opportunity to move forward rather than look back.

In fact, she plans to start taking riding lessons.

"I want to be able to understand the sport that she did, and I want to be able to get some sense for what she felt when she was doing it -- the sense of joy.

"When you lose a child, you feel very powerless," she said.

"It's my way of turning that powerlessness into a positive power."

She thinks that is what Allison would have wanted.

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