Kellie Jorgensen has known for some time what she wanted to do.
"I've always like animals ... and I want to try to help them with rehabilitation and restoring them to the wild," Jorgensen said.
But a "wish trip" to Sea World in Orlando, Fla., sponsored by the Children Wish Foundation International, during Jorgensen's eighth-grade year convinced her marine or wildlife biology is the path for her.
"I got to go behind the scenes and train the whales," Jorgensen said. "It was so neat."
The trip "gave me a lot of push. I had a lot of drive before that ... but that really pushed me to try and do it."
After graduating from Moffat County High School on May 26, Jorgensen will attend Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs. After earning an associate's degree, she plans to transfer to a Wyoming or Montana college to complete her bachelor's degree.
She knows the marine animal training field is competitive, and she plans to also work with wildlife while studying to prepare her for a possible career at a national refuge.
Jorgensen said she's excited to experience the freedom of college.
"You have to do things for yourself and not have someone there to tell you what to do," she said.
With that freedom comes responsibility. Jorgensen, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 6 weeks old, will become responsible for her medications, physical therapy two to four times a day and doctor's appointments every three months.
"It's important to be close to Denver for that reason," she said.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that typically affects victims' lungs and pancreas. The disease also affects Jorgensen's liver.
She will have her own room and bathroom at CMC to house equipment for her condition.
Her boyfriend of three years, Travis Decker, will also attend CMC in the fall. A 2006 Moffat County graduate, Decker will study firefighting and forestry.
Jorgensen said she's ready to make the move with him.
"I'm pretty excited," she said. "It'll be a change."
But she doesn't expect to leave Craig behind completely.
"I'll definitely stay in contact with a lot of my friends," she said.
And she has memories of the high school dance team -- she was co-captain her junior year and captain this year -- to carry with her.
She said the dance team was beneficial to her condition, and wants to help coach a team in Glenwood.
She'll also remember events like the fly-fishing trip she took with Rick Murr's wildlife management class, her three years of French with Terri Harjes and taking Woods I with Craig Conrad this year.
"Not a lot of girls take that class," Jorgensen said. Conrad "expected just as much out of me as he did any other student."
Before she packs her bags in the fall, Jorgensen is planning trips with her friends and family.
"I'll just try to hang out with everybody before everybody leaves," she said.
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.