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May 7, 2021

‘Never give up’: Family, community mourn death of Taylor Kirk

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

RICHFIELD — Those who knew Taylor Kirk remember her for two things — her tenacity and her smile.

“She was always cheerful and happy, she could light a room with her enthusiasm,” Dean Orbison, choral director at East Rowan High School and a former teacher of Taylor’s, said.

Taylor, who graduated from East Rowan in May, passed away Sunday night from a blood infection. Her family said that since then, they’ve been amazed to hear the number of people she touched and inspired.

“I knew she was really special to us, but I didn’t realize how special she was to everybody else,” father Dean Kirk said.

Taylor was born with spina bifida and had to use a wheelchair — but her family said that never stopped her. She was a three-time state champion for wheelchair shot put, and a member of the East Rowan Honors Chorus. Orbison said she knew “every dance, every turn and did every costume change.”

Mother Amy Kirk said Taylor did everything the family did — she went horseback riding, tubing, zip-lining, was an excellent swimmer and even mowed the lawn. Last month for her graduation present, the family went on a cruise, and Taylor swam with dolphins. She was also homecoming court representative her junior and senior years.

“She did not see herself as handicapped,” Amy said.

The Kirks recently purchased a car for Taylor, and were getting it outfitted while she worked towards her license. She was just a few months shy of earning it, and was scheduled to start school at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in January. In the meantime, she worked in the office at Matthew’s Greenhouse.

When Amy and Dean speak of Taylor, they use words like “daredevil,” “fireball” and “social bug.”

“They allowed her to be whatever she wanted to be,” Taylor’s coach, Laurie Wyrick, said of the Kirks.

Wyrick said that even though Taylor never had anyone to compete against in state championships, she always strove to throw better than the previous year. Wyrick said she remembers Taylor as a positive, happy girl who never complained, who used to fly down the halls of the school in her wheelchair.

But her passion was singing, and Orbison said she was one of the most dedicated students he ever taught.

“She was truly a delight,” he said.

Sister Kayla Kirk said Taylor was always singing — at home, in the car, in the shower and at church. She sang regularly on Sundays at Luther’s Lutheran Church in Richfield, where she attended. She sang there for the last time just three weeks ago.

Taylor and Amy also attended every football and baseball game — often driving several hours to cheer for East Rowan.

“Now who does that?” Wyrick wondered.

Taylor and her family planned on attending a football game Friday night when Taylor came down with a migraine. She spent Saturday and Sunday sleeping on the couch, and her family periodically checked on her. If she’d had a fever, Dean said, he would have taken her to the hospital. But she didn’t, and Amy decided take her to the doctor first thing Monday morning.

The family called 911 when they noticed that Taylor was lying with her eyes open and that she had a weak pulse. Despite tireless efforts by first responders, firefighters and a team at the hospital, she didn’t make it. A test showed that Taylor had an infection in her blood that had built up over time.

“We just didn’t have a clue,” Dean said.

The past few days have been hard for the Kirks, but Dean said the family has been overwhelmed by the kindness of their community.

“If it wouldn’t have been for all the family and friends, we couldn’t have made it through the past two days,” Dean said.

Now, the Kirks are learning just how much influence the excitable, bouncing girl in a wheelchair wielded. Taylor inspired other students with disabilities to try for shot put, and she’s the reason there’s now ramp access to the East Rowan stadium. She even inspired her sister to pursue a career in nursing.

“She was always proud of me, whatever I did,” Kayla said.

But it’s her personality that people really remember.

“She was like a magnet,” Dean said, “people were drawn to her.”

“If everybody’s soul could be as sweet and positive as hers, the world would be perfect,” Wyrick said.

Wyrick said that the East Rowan football team will wear stickers on their helmets with Taylor’s initials all season. The practice field, and soon the football field, will also bear her initials. The athletics department is also trying to erect a rock in memory of Taylor — down in the end zone, near the shot put area.

Dean said nothing can replace Taylor, but the Kirks believe her legacy is one of perseverance and triumph.

“Never give up, no matter what life throws at you,” Amy said.

The funeral will be held today at 4 p.m. at Luther’s Lutheran Church in Richfield.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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