Fourth in a series
Ellen Reinecke has a tattoo on each of her wrists I love you and signatures in her mothers and fathers handwriting, copied from old birthday cards. She looks at them often.
Her older sister, Sara, has identical tattoos on her ankles.
Someone noticed the tattoos not long ago and asked Reinecke if her parents had been OK with her getting the ink. The 18-year-old smiled, nodded and said they were.
She didnt mention that her parents both passed away two and three years ago. In fact, Reinecke rarely feels a need to mention that her parents are dead.
But when the subject comes up, she talks about her mother and father and their deaths with ease.
I dont ever want people to feel sorry for me, Reinecke said. I dont want people to pity me.
The North Mecklenburg High senior lost her mother, Amy, to sarcoma cancer in January of her ninth grade year in 2010. Her father, John, died in February 2011 after a heart attack.
Her teachers say Reineckes grades never slipped, and neither has her attitude.
Reinecke will graduate Wednesday as the schools Student of the Year, varsity volleyball captain and DECA club president, and as an inspiration to both friends and teachers.
Shes still the same person she was before everything else happened. Shes just ... a lot stronger, said Tori Kratz, a fellow North Mecklenburg senior and one of Reineckes closest friends since sixth grade.
The support of her friends and teachers has been one of the keys to remaining positive, Reinecke said. So has the Pierce family Alison and Chris and their children, Jessica and Gabe who Reinecke lives with and who consider her their daughter and sister.
Alison Pierce was close friends with Reineckes mother. Reinecke, her family and family friends collectively decided it was best for her to live with the Pierces in Charlotte so she could stay close to her friends and high school. Having that stability was important at a time when so much in her life had changed, she said.
Reinecke said she also has a close relationship with her grandparents in Denver, N.C., and her uncle, who lives in Chapel Hill.
Reinecke said shes most nervous about being apart from her friends, family and the Pierces and her dog, Linus when she goes to attend Virginia Tech in the fall, where she plans to study animal science in hopes of becoming a veterinarian.
Strong, responsible, inspiring and hilarious are all traits that Reineckes friends, teachers and principal use to describe her.
You would never in a million years think that something so tragic happened to her, because shes so positive, said Reineckes volleyball coach, Tarrah Johnson. We complain about the smallest things. And here she is, been to hell and back in my opinion, and then she still has a smile on her face, so excited.
Reineckes best friend and fellow North Mecklenburg senior Elizabeth Johnston said Reinecke may send her a text message once every couple months saying shes having a bad day and missing her parents. But more often, Johnston said, Reinecke is the one offering support.
Even the day after her mother died, Reinecke was encouraging her friends to attend the schools basketball game against rival Hopewell, Johnston said. She didnt want them to miss out on anything on her account.
I always think about, Im supposed to be there for her, Johnston said. But its not that way. Shes always there for me for everything. Any little problem that I have, she makes it her priority.
Reinecke says she has it easy compared to a lot of people. So she stays positive.
Whats the point of being so negative about it? Its not going to help me at all, Reinecke said. I do still have days where I just mope around. But if Im mopey about it all the time thats not going to help me at all.
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