Craig She could have done anything.
She could have become a lawyer, a doctor or an architect. She could have run for public office, or volunteered to feed the hungry. She could have gotten married, raised a family and lived a long, healthy life full of happiness and love.
She could have, she could have :
Inherit with being both young and free in America is the right to pursue a myriad of future possibilities.
Certainly, 13-year-old Karen Valdez was no different and, like all of our young people, faced the uncertain yet thrilling prospect of shaping what she wanted her life to be in coming years.
However, in a tragic turn of events perhaps more heartbreaking than the accident that claimed her, the chance to chase her vision of the American dream eluded Karen.
A leisurely Sunday afternoon swim in the Yampa River turned deadly and Karen, an out-of-town visitor from Stephenville, Texas, died, the apparent victim of a drowning accident.
The Valdez accident comes at the same time another Texas family grapples with losing a loved one in our area.
Walter Benskin, 53, of Santa Fe, Texas, went missing in October 2006 near Meeker during a hunting trip.
A massive, three-day search last week by authorities from Rio Blanco, Mesa and Grand counties, failed to recover Benskin's remains.
Benskin's family also helped with the search. They are currently continuing to comb the Ripple Creek Pass area, searching independent from the authorities, until about July 10.
Like Valdez, Benskin had plenty of life left. He enjoyed the outdoors, riding his motorcycle, and had a wife and two children.
The common thread between these two mostly unrelated incidents is this: They were both avoidable occurrences where a life was claimed that didn't need to be.
Don't misunderstand us. Our hearts go out to the victim's friends and family, and they have the board's sympathies and prayers.
No one is to blame for these deaths. They are, just as authorities describe them, accidents.
That doesn't mean we can't learn from them, though.
On Saturday, this newspaper published an editorial pushing the board's belief that residents should take advantage of the warm summer weather and our area's natural amenities, of which there are many.
While the board stands by its view, we agree that it should have been prefaced with the following point - respect the force of Mother Nature.
Hunting and swimming in the river are two popular, and most times safe, activities for our area, and residents should be encouraged to utilize the natural settings Northwest Colorado offers to do both of them.
But, as the incidents showed, even the most seemingly safe activities can jump out and grab the unsuspecting.
We implore those going out this summer to swim, hike, bike or fish, to use precautions.
Take water. Wear a lifejacket. Use sunscreen. Bring extra supplies. Make sure someone knows where you are.
Whatever it takes to make sure your activity doesn't go south and end in tragedy. Whatever it takes to make sure you live to see the opportunities others were so sadly denied.