CHAPEL HILL (WTVD) --News of Mackenzie Ruston's death hit her teammates on the Durham Chapel Hill Bouncing Bulldogs competitive jump rope team hard. They knew her as just Kenzie, their team captain and someone who pushed them to be their best.
"If she needed to pat you on the back she would do that if she needed to step on your toes she would do that," said Kenzie's long-time coach Ray Fredrick.
And he said she had no problem voicing suggestions to the coaches if she thought the team would benefit.
"She taught me that coaches can learn from the athlete," Fredrick said.
Mackenzie, 17, a senior at East Chapel Hill High School, died in a plane crash Monday in Wyoming. It happened one day before her 18th birthday.
KIDK reported that Mackenzie and 61-year-old Reade Genzlinger of Bryn Athyn, Penn., were both killed after their plane crashed about 2 miles north of the runway at the Alpine Wyoming airport.
The two were in a Yak 52 Russian trainer aircraft on a recreational flight, KIDK reported. The cause of the crash is unknown.
School officials said no one else from Ruston's family was involved in the accident.
Tom Forcella, Superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools expressed his condolences.
"Today we grieve as a community. This is the hardest day any of us will ever face," Forcella said. "We will rely on the comfort of one another, and we will do everything in our power to support Mackenzie's family, friends and loved ones."
Kenzie traveled the world with the team and helped win five world championships, most recently in late 2015. She was a fierce competitor and loved to try new things. Her friends say she had her pilot's license, but investigators say she was not at the controls when the recreation flight she was on crashed.
"She was always there, always ready to give a helping hand," said Isabel Osborne, Kenzie's jump-rope co-captain.
Her coach said Kenzie started on the competitive jump rope team when she was just 4 years old. He said right from the beginning, her dedication to the sport was evident. Through the years, the team's typical practice schedule spanned six days a week. Fredrick said she was the first to show up and the last to leave.
"She was a dedicated person to the program and to the sport of jump rope and well loved all over the world and probably one of the most humble individuals I ever met," Fredrick said.
Photographs of happy memories line the wall outside the gym where the Bulldogs practice in Chapel Hill. These images now serve as reminders to the teammates she leaves behind of her smile, her friendship and her drive for the sport.
"Stay in your lane and follow your passion, don't try to live someone else's life and that's who she was," Fredrick said.
East Chapel Hill High School principal Eileen Tully said counseling would be available for students.
"Our condolences certainly go out to Mackenzie's family, friends and her loved ones. Counseling support has been added to our school today from the district to assist students and staff with grieving," Tully said. "If you would like any sort of advice or assistance on how to best engage your child in this difficult conversation, please don't hesitate to call on us. This is a very difficult time for everyone, and your continued support is greatly appreciated."
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