San Francisco, CA
October 5, 2002
It was Spring 2001, when I met Danielle Drumke for the first time. She was a new teammate on my San Francisco soccer team, Brown Sugar. Having never played soccer, Danielle brought a spirit to the field we had never seen before. She was an ex-rugby player who had a special style of playing that the whole team loved. There were so many things we loved about Danielle.
After the game was over--we were victorious, I might add--we started talking. Come to find out, Danielle had been diagnosed with a brain tumor about six months before that. She still came out to every game even if she had just had chemo the day before. She knew her limits and sometimes only played for 10 minutes or so, but she was there.
She had the most incredible outlook on life, even though she knew hers was going to be drastically shortened. She had a website created, www.danielledrumke.com, which was a wonderful way of keeping up with all the details of her life. It is a place everyone could go to find out what she was going though medically and personally. She opened up her life to all those she knew and loved. After reading some of the stuff, you felt like you knew her for a lifetime. I still read it.
On June 16, 2002, she lost the battle at the age of 28. Danielle would have been 29 on June 21. June 21 was her memorial. Now came a hard decision for me. My daughter Chrissy's 16th birthday was June 21 (yes, they share the same birthday), and we were headed to the Black Rock Desert for a rocket launch that had been planned for several months. Should I stay or should I be with my family on Chrissy's 16th birthday? I thought, what would Danielle want? She would want me to go on with my life, and most importantly, be with my family. So I went.
It was a strange day to say the least. We had thunderstorms throughout the day, and at certain times, we had to stop launching. Then the big rains hit. It rained harder than I've ever seen it rain there before, and it continued for so many hours. I think it was all the collective tears from Danielle's memorial. When we all woke in the morning, it was a muddy mess but dried out soon.
That's when it hit me: I'm going to build a rocket for Danielle. I knew XPRS was coming up in September, and since it was a memorial for Tom Cloud, it would be a great time to do one for Danielle.
Danielle was known as the Superstar, so my wheels started turning. I built a 54mm minimum diameter carbon rocket that would work with a K250, which would take it over 20K, or a K700, which could take it to around 17K. Since I couldn't find a K250, I bought the K700. The building began.
I found out Danielle loved rainbow colors, so the painting was my hardest decision. How could I do a great paint job with lots of different colors? I decided to get the holographic rainbow sheets/tape and put it on the payload section and painted the rest of the rocket white. I named the rocket the Superstar Express. I went to Sign-A-Rama, got the lettering and put it on. I then decided it needed more, so I cut out 28 stars, which represented one star for every year of her life, and put those on the rocket as well. I had family and friends send messages that were written on the parachutes so that Danielle could read them.
Since this was XPRS, I decided to do one more thing--try for a first place in one of the competitions. I entered the Economax K category sponsored by Aerocon.
Now it was time for the flight. Tony and AJ let me use their tower, and AJ came out to help adjust it for my rocket (thanks, guys). Once I was back at the flight line waiting for the launch, the sun was reflecting on the rainbow holographic sheet and stars and it was like it was on fire out there. Just before the countdown, a bug landed on my shoulder and someone said it was my friend. Finally, 5, 4, 3, 2,1, launch.
It rose to the heavens just as straight as an arrow. What a great flight. The bug remained on my shoulder until I leaned way back to let out a huge scream of excitement and the pump of the fist and it flew off. The rocket seemed to stay in the air for at least 10 minutes. At first I thought it was stuck in a thermal, and then I realized that both chutes came out at apogee and that Danielle was busy reading each and every message on them.
Dale Schornak and Jim went to retrieve it for me so I could go back to my treasurer duties. It was about 2 miles away. When they got back, it was beeping 17,377 ft. AGL. That was the highest I've ever flown. Dale interviewed me and taped the entire flight and the retrieval. Dale, thank you so much for that.
I got so hung up in the moment that I totally forgot to take a still shot with my digital camera. Thanks to Mike Breast for finding it on his video and sending me still photos and the video. I took the rocket over to Tony for verification of the altitude, and he calculated the category. It put me in first place (Sorry, Ken). The rocket was in great shape except for a little peeling of the stars and lettering.
I'm going to present her family with the video of the interview and the parachutes with the messages, but thought I would keep the rocket so that each year I could send messages.
Danielle lives on in all of us. Her family and friends are keeping her name alive by setting up a scholarship in her name at Smith where she graduated. This was her last wish--to help women who might not otherwise be able to attend the college. That is Danielle, always thinking of others.
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