Maddie Hurd was an instructor at Mt. Baker, where she found a loving community of other adventurers and mountain lovers. // Photo courtesy of Rachel Hurd
Madeline ‘Maddie’ Hurd is described as a bright light of love and optimism by her friends, family and even those she only met briefly. A Western student and a recreation major, Maddie’s love for human connection and making people feel good is what her loved ones say set her apart from the crowd.
Maddie’s friends and family lost her suddenly in a car accident on Feb. 20 when she was driving up to Mt. Baker Ski Area, where she worked as an instructor.
Eliza High, Maddie’s close friend, said Maddie touched many people in her time at Western. Having worked together at Mt. Baker, High said Maddie’s loving energy was a source of inspiration for others.
“[Maddie] would just bring the atmosphere of an entire room up as soon as she walked into it, no matter how you were feeling,” High said. “If you are already excited, she would make you even more excited. If you were crying or sad, she would make you laugh in less than five minutes.”
Rachel Hurd, Maddie’s mom, said from an early age Maddie had a big personality. She said Maddie learned to walk on the pool deck of her family’s neighborhood swim club in San Ramon, California, where her two older brothers swam. As Maddie got older, she wanted to help teach other kids how to swim.
Hurd said other members of the swim club started to notice Maddie’s natural ability to help other kids learn, so they started asking her for help.
“[Maddie] was just really good at watching what they could do and and tweaking it and [telling them] ‘Work on this.’ And then she’d be there for their race and celebrate with them afterward,” Hurd said. “And so she had this following of little ones and their moms and dads.”
Maddie continued her involvement in sports through working at a local pool in San Ramon as soon she was old enough, and later competing with California High School’s water polo team. Hurd said Maddie also had dyslexia, which made school and homework particularly hard.
“She really tried to not let dyslexia be an excuse for her. It was ‘I have this challenge, this is what I need,’” Hurd said. “She got really good at being a self advocate, you know, even in middle school.”
Maddie persevered through school and health challenges related to her involvement on the varsity water polo team, and was excited to start fresh at Western, Hurd said.
“She had nothing but good things to say about school, especially the rec program. She was so excited about the community that she found,” High said. “[Maddie] had to say no to a lot of fun things in order to do school, but she never [felt] down about it. She knew that she needed to do school and it was actually enjoyable for her and more important.”
Randall Burtz, Maddie’s advisor in the recreation program, said with her big smile and boisterous laugh, Maddie was always a friendly face in the department. Maddie’s friends organized a candlelight vigil in honor of Maddie on Feb. 21, at Laurel Park.
“At the candlelight vigil, there was a student there speaking that was just in one of her classes, and they had just met,” Burtz said. “[They said] they can’t picture a day without Maddie now because she’d always sit down and just start chatting and see how they were.”
Through the recreation department, Maddie participated in an internship with Alaska Crossings, a therapeutic program for young people who are struggling at home or in their community. According to its website, the program uses a wilderness-based model, which includes canoe trips and camping, to teach social functioning skills.
Maddie traveled to Alaska in the summer of 2018 to help prepare food and plan for the canoe trips, as well as assist in guiding the participants.
“Maddie had this really calm, loving way about her, so I could see her really deescalating [situations] quite well just with her nature,” Burtz said.
High said Maddie had shared a few stories from her trip over the summer. She said Maddie was always making friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss, and there was one night on the trip where one of the participants was upset.
“Maddie told me that she had kind of pulled this girl aside and asked what she was mad about, and this girl was just so angry that life wasn’t fair,” High said. “I don’t know if that little girl had ever been told in her life that she was important and she mattered and someone loved her, but Maddie told her that and gave her one of the bracelets.”
From California, to Alaska and Washington, Maddie’s loved ones agree she touched people wherever she went. When Hurd and her husband visited Bellingham to celebrate Maddie’s life, they were happy to see Maddie had so many people who loved her.
“She had these deep connections with people. That’s really what I walked away with from Bellingham,” Hurd said. “She really touched people and that was what she wanted to do.”