Amy Donaldson: Running saved Payson woman after accident stole her brother's life

Published: Sunday, April 7 2013 7:20 p.m. MDT

Rachelle and Trevor Wardle.

Courtesy Rachelle Wardle

PAYSON — The agony of losing her brother was so suffocating, Rachelle Wardle felt as if she’d died with him.

In a desperate attempt to save herself, she turned to a sport she’d never known, hoping it could help her save a life she wasn’t sure she wanted.

“He was my life,” said the 27-year-old Payson woman. “We were inseparable, best friends. … It was tough — really, really tough. In that moment, my life was over. I couldn’t imagine moving forward at all. My brother was my whole life, and it felt kind of like I died too in that moment.”

But she didn’t die in the late-night rollover accident that stole her brother’s life on Oct. 27, 2009, at the age of 21. He’d struggled with mental illness (schizoaffective disorder), and even attempted to take his own life when he was 16.

“It’s the most terrible thing you can ever imagine,” she said of the illness that her brother dealt with every day. “Physical pain is so different. You can always take something, medication, but that mental pain they go through, that’s something that never goes away. They deal with it all of the time.”

Trevor Wardle hid his illness from most of the people who knew him. The exception was his family, who did their best to help him navigate the pain, fear and anger that accompanied an often misunderstood illness.

“He struggled every day,” she said. “Life was just a constant battle for him. He heard voices, things in his head, telling him to do things, and a lot of times he would just act out. … He was misdiagnosed a lot. First it was depression, then bipolar. It was just a constant battle.”

Trevor and Rachelle turned to each other as the struggled with the demands of life. He was staying with her the night he died, and had decided to go for a drive on his own, unbeknownst to Rachelle.

When she woke up at 4 a.m., her parents were standing in her bedroom and her world shattered in ways she still can’t completely describe.

At first she was preoccupied by the funeral and loving embrace of family and community. But about three weeks after Trevor’s death, she found herself still calling him on her drive home from work.

“Life kind of went back to normal, but I was struggling so hard, and it was almost a month after he’d passed away,” she said. “One day I called and when there was no answer, I pulled over to the side of the road and I remember just breaking down — throwing my cell phone, banging my head on the steering wheel and realizing my brother wasn’t coming back. He was gone forever.” In that moment she realized she had a choice to make.

“There were two ways I could go: I could dig myself into a deep hole, or I could move forward and live my life for and in honor of my brother,” she said.

She chose to honor Trevor by doing something she’d always wanted to do but never quite had the courage to try — running.

“I couldn’t even pass the Presidential Fitness Test 13-minute mile,” she said. “But I’d always thought it was really cool, and I remember thinking, 'I want to do something with my life. I want to live in honor of my brother.'” So what she could never do for herself, she decided to try for Trevor.

“One of the quotes I read that night said, ‘The miracle isn’t that I finished; the miracle is that I had the courage to start,’” she said. “I’ve struggled my whole life with self-confidence to pursue dreams and aspirations. It’s kind of like a light bulb went on. I could do it for Trevor.”

She bought a pair of Wal-Mart brand running shoes and went running the next day.

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