Road rally honors Grandville teen who died of cancer

An undated courtesy photo of Alyssa Arends.

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — When Alyssa Arends’ parents are asked to describe their daughter, it takes them a moment.

That’s because there’s so much to say and so much to share.

“So many things,” Tim Arends, her father, said.

“It’s a hard question,” Laura Arends, her mother, added.

“She was bigger than life,” Tim Arends said.

In 2012, a diagnosis rattled Alyssa’s family and everyone who knew her.

An undated courtesy photo of Alyssa Arends.
(An undated courtesy photo of Alyssa.)

When she was a seventh-grader at Grandville Middle School, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Her parents said there are only about 250 cases in the U.S. each year.

Alyssa fought, just like she did in sports and in life, but she passed away two years later in March 2014 at the age of 15.

“She was a trooper through it all. She always said, ‘It’ll be alright, it’ll be OK, we’ll get through this.’ She was the positive one,” Tim Arends said.

The time since her death has been difficult for her family.

Saturday, friends, family and community members gathered to celebrate and honor her with a big competition they called Alyssa’s Amazing Race.Alyssa's Amazing Race 102415

“Our children really enjoyed scavenger hunts and road rallies in their earlier years,” Laura Arends said. “(Alyssa) loved ‘The Amazing Race’ show. That’s kind of where we birthed the idea to do the road rally.”

Teams dressed in all sorts of costumes traveled across Grandville, taking part in various challenges. Each of the 10 ‘pit stops’ represented something about Alyssa. One was at a local dance studio. Alyssa had danced nearly her entire life.

But beyond the sports, the dance, the theater and her other hobbies, Alyssa’s family said she loved helping others.

So they created a scholarship in her name called Learn Grow Lead. The proceeds from Saturday’s event went to help fund it, ensuring other kids have the same opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities.

“I noticed that there wasn’t anything to help other families, for the kids. They might have five kids and money might be tight,” Tim Arends said.

An undated courtesy photo of Alyssa Arends with her father, Tim, and mother, Laura.
(An undated courtesy photo of Alyssa with her parents.)

Alyssa’s parents hope the scholarship will help other students become well-rounded, like their daughter.

“It makes me smile to think of her and to think of her smile, and I hope that we’re just doing a good job in honoring her,” Laura Arends said.

“…And that she’s enjoying what she sees,” Tim Arends added. “And we miss her.”

Alyssa would have turned 17 on Oct. 22. Her parents are hoping to make the road rally an annual event.

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