Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Lewis Mills crew mourns, honors Kailey Prenoveau
BURLINGTON — The day before Kailey Prenoveau’s 15th birthday, Amelia Beaulieu emailed Jared Fellows. She asked her Lewis Mills rowing coach if the team could dress up in purple and blue — Kailey’s favorite colors — for school and later at practice.
Amelia asked the girls on the team to braid their hair.
“Kailey always braided the other girls’ hair at the races,” Beaulieu said. “French braids, it was like a tradition. Everyone would ask her to do it. She was very, very good at it.”
Sophomore rower Josh Driscoll even braided his hair.
“I rocked the look,” Driscoll said.
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Beaulieu said, breaking into a laugh.
You should know Kailey Jaie Prenoveau didn’t make it to her 15th birthday party on Sept 14. Less than a week before she was to start her sophomore year, she was talking to the driver of a car at the side of Hill Road in Harwinton. According to police, another vehicle heading south that Sunday night of Aug. 22 swerved to avoid the first car and struck her. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Kailey was an honor student. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she’d get up early to attend 5:45 a.m. seminary class before school her freshman year. Kailey won an award for perfect attendance. She cooked and baked. She rowed and swam for Lewis Mills. This year Kailey also planned to run cross country. She was so full of life that the loss of someone so beautiful, inside and out, at age 14 is a cruelty too difficult for adults to comprehend.
Can you imagine what it is like for teammates close to her?
“My grandmother was staying with us, because there was supposed to be the hurricane (Henri) and it wasn’t,” Beaulieu, a junior, said. “I woke up. It was a beautiful day outside. My mom, when I saw the look on her face, I knew something was wrong. She wouldn’t give me my phone. My parents sat me down on the couch and told me the news. I started crying. I was in shock. I still am sometimes.”
Sophomore rower Kiara Kannan knew Kailey since the fifth grade. She called Kailey her role model. Even if she was complaining about something, Kiara said, Kailey always found a way to power through the day.
“I looked up to her,” Kannan said. “I would struggle sometimes coming to school, but I’d think if Kailey can do it why can’t I? We had our own little humor, too, and that was a nice thing.”
Kannan slept in that morning, but remembers her mom coming in early to ask about a friend from Harwinton.
“I was confused,” Kannan said “I said it was Kailey. I didn’t think anything of it. I woke up later, checked my phone as usual. I saw a bunch of messages, ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ … ‘I’m so sorry. I know you were close with her …’ I thought it was a joke at first. I don’t know why. It just didn’t seem real to me. I jumped out of bed, panicking. My mom heard me. She burst into the room.”
Driscoll woke up to texts, too. One read, “I need you to answer the phone now, now, now.” Just as Josh was texting back, his dad knocked on the door.
“Who was that girl you hung out with a couple weeks ago?” he asked. “I said, ‘Oh, Kailey.’ I assumed it was nothing. I was going back to bed. He said, ‘No, she died.’ I sat there for a hot minute. I didn’t cry at first. It was, ‘You OK? I don’t know.’ I didn’t know how to respond. After about a half hour, it really set in.”
Each year, we lose a few high school athletes around the state and each time the tragedy is immense. Last month, it was Westhill senior football captain Jordan Martinez in an auto accident. The month before, it was Kailey Prenoveau. Without an answer for why, our only choice is to hug the rest of our kids.
Beaulieu’s grandfather died only three weeks before Kailey. He was 89. He lived a long life. Kannan and Driscoll lost a friend going into the sixth grade. As they sat there in a meeting room at Lewis Mills, the three agreed they had reached an age of maturity where they feel the full blow of a close friend’s loss.
“It feels like a big hole sometimes, a big blank space, especially when I’m at practice,” Kannan said. “I’d be with her all day, every day, from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening. Every time at practice, I go for her. When I feel like giving up, I think of her. It helps me push through.”
“When I row or a coxswain in a race, I imagine her there,” Beaulieu said. “I imagine her as the angel of our team. I feel her there, every practice, every race. She had the best smile. Her laugh was contagious. That laugh, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Driscoll talked about the strange sensation of going through an experience similar to last season, looking around and expecting Kailey to be there.
“And she’s not,” Driscoll said. “She was always a helpful person and a very assertive one. She knew what she wanted and how she wanted it — in a good way.”
As a freshman, Kailey rowed with the upperclassmen. She stood out to assistant Emily Facey as a strong athlete from Day 1.
“I was impressed with how quickly she caught on to the basics of rowing,” Facey said. “She had this essence about her that I knew she was going to be something great. Through the season, she proved it more and more.
“There was something else about her that set her apart from everyone. You could always count on her to make you smile, make you laugh. If you were having a bad day, she just knew without you saying anything. She’d cheer you up, kick you into gear. Kailey was everyone’s No. 1 fan.”
There is crew at Lewis Mills in both autumn and spring. The start to the fall season after Kailey’s death was difficult, Fellows said, but it also proved to be unifying.
“We are triumphing through this tragedy,” Fellows said. “Kailey has made a lasting impact on us.”
“We try to keep Kailey’s memory alive in every practice,” Facey said.
The team is wearing black ribbons on their uniforms this year.
The next boat purchased will be in Kailey’s favorite colors and will be named after her.
“Her dad spoke at the funeral and said the way Kailey lived her life, she was fierce in everything she did,” Facey said. “She was such a strong person at only 14. She was fierce in every definition of the word. She loved her family, loved the things she did in life. It really touched me. I’ve tried to resemble that in my every day since.”
Be sure, the team did wear purple and blue to practice on Sept. 14.
Kannan had written a letter to Zach and Alyssa Prenoveau, who also have three sons, about her favorite memories from the day she met their daughter. She sent them an edible arrangement made of pineapples. Kailey’s favorite fruit. Kannan especially wanted her hair braided on Kailey’s birthday.
“She used to braid my hair every day before practice without complaint,” Kannan said. “She loved to do it.”
The Prenoveau family arrived at practice. Not only the immediate family, but aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. They wore purple shirts that read “Happy Birthday Kailey” on the front. And on the back read “We love you always and forever.”
Facey said it was something special to watch the kids bond with the family. Share Kailey’s favorite snacks and drinks. Josh Driscoll called it the definition of bittersweet.
“It was definitely harder when her parents were talking,” Kannan said. “Thinking how she would be right next to me if we were in the same huddle last year.”
“There were a lot of tears,” Beaulieu said. “People who weren’t crying would try to make the other teammates laugh. One of my friends on the team burped. I was crying and laughing at the same time. We’re definitely family.”
After Kailey’s wake, Beaulieu had asked her coach if the team could go out for ice cream. She said she knew Kailey wouldn’t want sadness. She’d much rather they celebrate her. So off they went to Peaches N’ Cream over on the TorringtonLitchfield line.
“There weren’t any more tears,” Beaulieu said. “Everyone was laughing and talking.”
She was enjoying her mint chocolate chip when she looked up in the night sky. Suddenly, she said, she was in a zone. Everything was quiet.
“I noticed this one star shimmering,” Amelia Beaulieu said. “I felt like it was her. Kailey was smiling down on me.”