Randi Richardson was able to check an item off her bucket list – attend Space Camp. It’s likely one of the last items to be marked off as she was told her kidney cancer returned, coming with a terminal diagnosis in December of last year. Richardson may have been dealt a crappy hand of cards this round but that won’t stop her from continuing to live until the very end.
In recent years she has contributed to the Lowell community through creation of a chair for Chair-A-Tee and directing LowellArts Dixie Swim Club. However, it’s her time outside the community spotlight which has likely touched the most people.
Fulfilling a Dream
The return of terminal cancer isn’t a good thing. Yet in December, upon hearing the news she has approximately six months to live, Richardson began thinking about what fun trip she could take. Friend and fellow adventurer, Martha Hayden, would be her sidekick once again. The two met about 10 years ago and formed a friendship. They’ve sought out activities and adventures together and were looking for one more opportunity to create shared memories.
During a dinner in December, shortly after Richardson’s terminal diagnosis, the two decided on Space Camp at Richardson’s request. Richardson’s son attended when he was in fourth grade and for a long time she herself has wanted to participate. “Our plan was set in motion. We signed up for January!” says Hayden of the decision. One more item would be able to be checked off Richardson’s bucket list.
Mission: Space Camp
During the three-day camp in Huntsville, AL, Richardson and Hayden would participate on one of about seven teams. Each team consisted of 15 member adults. Throughout the course of their training they would complete three simulations – rocket building, moonwalk, and orbit ride. Team members were given different roles for each mission. Richardson was a flight commander and pilot in two of three tasks.
Those teaching Team Pioneer, as they were named, were aware of Richardson’s medical situation and so were her teammates. Doctors were around in the event any care was needed and for other campers who might have needed any medical attention. At one point, Richardson became sick. Yet she persevered, not wanting to leave her team. While doctors wanted her to go to the hospital, she refused to leave, explaining that she should be treated like a sick astronaut in space. “You wouldn’t be able to go to the hospital!” she explained. Hayden talks of her friend’s “spirit demanding to accomplish this adventure” when looking back at the weekend away.
Hayden herself enjoyed the roles she was given during the weekend’s missions. “I was planning on focusing on supporting Randi when it turned out to create amazing memories and a true boost to my self-confidence.” she says. In her role as Space Shuttle Commander she was able to make a survivable landing only overshooting the runway a bit and landing in the woods. As a second grade teacher at Cherry Creek Elementary School, her students think it’s pretty cool that their teacher went to Space Camp.
Standing Out in a Crowd
Richardson stood out when looking at her team for a number of reasons. While others purchased jumpsuits to wear during camp, she was able to wear what her son had worn so many years ago. Those working at the camp saw it as a classic. Richardson says she could have sold it more than once, but of course did not.
This team spirit and example of giving your all did not go unnoticed. Richardson was selected to receive the Right Stuff Award given to someone who exemplified team spirit and unity throughout the course of the camp. It’s quite an honor to be selected to receive this award.
Team Pioneer also received the Best Spirit Award for having the most fun throughout the course of the weekend. With two people from Lowell on one team, they were a shoe in! The team as a whole not only worked well together, but enjoyed themselves while doing it, which was noticed by camp leadership.
Richardson shows off the Right Stuff Award and is proud of the team she was part of and new friends made during Space Camp. She even created a photo book so she can look back at the memories and show others what camp was like.
Attending Space Camp alone is enough to create lasting memories, but for Richardson and Hayden there was a greater significance. It was likely be their last big adventure together. Theater brought them together when Hayden’s daughter performed in LowellArts’ Steel Magnolias. Over the years the two have enjoyed hanging out driving Richardson’s Mustang convertible, participating in LowellArts’ Dixie Swim Club, and having adventures such as taking an improv class at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater and attending improv night at Dog Story.
Richardson is currently under the care of hospice. She has to be careful about keeping her immune system as strong as possible so her visitors need to be cautious. She says most of the people who come to her home are nurses looking to poke and prod. But even now, her attitude and what Hayden calls her “zest and kindness” shows through.
And so does her humor. She’s still trying to figure out how she can take certain things with her. When she is gone her remains will be in a crypt alongside a chest which will be left for her grandchildren to open in about 20 years. At this time they’ll be in their 30s. Richardson wanted to leave family history to them, given to them in a time of their own lives when they can appreciate it. She says the people at the cemetery first thought the idea was “a bit crazy” but then looked at it as a meaningful way to leave things behind in a time capsule of sorts. Richardson commented how the idea could and should be sold to others even if she won’t be around to collect any royalties.
Those who have been touched by Richardson know that her sparkle will continue on in what and who she will leave behind. She lives her life to the fullest even when she knows her time is limited. She has chosen to keep a positive attitude and continue to live with what time she has left. Hayden sums up what she will miss about her friend saying, “I will always carry her with me like a hand print on my heart.”
Photos courtesy of Randi Richardson and used with permission.
Updated March 14 at 7am. Editor’s note – we received word that Randi passed away peacefully the morning of March 13 shortly before this article was originally published.