Desert Vista grad travels the globe in tribute to late cousin - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Arts & Life

Desert Vista grad travels the globe in tribute to late cousin

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Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 1:42 pm, Fri May 27, 2011.

The entertainment value of a destination differs for every traveler, yet the sentimentality found in the journey is too often neglected.

For Eamon O'Brien, a 20-year-old marketing student at Arizona State University and a Desert Vista High School graduate, every vacation holds a much deeper meaning.

In celebration of his late cousin, O'Brien leaves traces of her at every landmark he visits.

A few years before Colleen Nichols was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in February 2008, a distant relative of O'Brien was suffering from a similar illness.

The method the woman's family used to cope with the situation was through creating plastic bracelets with "Alive and Thriving" engraved across the front.

The woman soon recovered and his family adopted the bracelets, referring to them as "symbols of hope" for Nichol's recovery.

Although she ultimately died in July of the same year, the bracelets have remained a treasured possession in O'Brien's life.

Nichols was as close to him as his own mother, he said.

Rather than simply wearing the bracelets to honor his late cousin, he has his own take on the "spreading of the ashes" tradition by scattering the bracelets in places that have the most impact on him.

A trip O'Brien made to the Northern Lights in March 2009 sparked the beginning of this tradition.

He said, "As I was driving up the mountain I noticed the bracelet on my arm, but after walking around taking photos of the mountain I got back to the car and realized it was gone."

Since this incident, he has left the bracelets in popular places all over the world such as the Philippines, waterfalls in the northwest, piers in California, volcanoes in Hawaii, and even a U.S. Airways airplane where he had an inspirational conversation with a passenger beside him.

"I'd like to think that there was a reason the bracelet went missing on top of the Northern Lights, in one of the most beautiful places in the world," he said.

O'Brien chooses to leave the bracelets in locations that he believes Nichols would have appreciated had she been able to experience them with him, he said.

Before her diagnosis, Nichols was training to become a life coach. She wanted to help people achieve their dreams, O'Brien said.

"She was always passionate about doing new things and seeing the world," O'Brien said. "She had an incredible sense of humor, believing that any worry could easily be laughed off. I could only hope to have developed part of her enthusiasm for life."

"I think the most influential piece of advice I learned from my cousin is that you have to have dreams before you can decide how to follow them."

Macy Fuquay is a student at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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