When Rhinebeck three-sports star Maggie O'Malley passed away from sudden cardiac arrest during the summer before her senior year, the tragic death scared the community. It had not been long before when O'Malley's best friend, Kaitlin Forbes, experienced sudden cardiac arrest during a gym class. Forbes was fortunate that an AED was on site at the high school and she was able to recover. The two incidents spurred a response from the family and friends of O'Malley and Forbes that that still lives on today.
" All the kids were scared," recalled Rhinebeck Athletic Director Stephen Boucher who was also one of O'Malley's high school coaches. " They were wondering if they were next."
Maggie's mom, Pat O'Malley and Kaitlin's mom, Linda Forbes, along with the friends of the two girls then made their mission Heart Awareness and soon after, the Heart Safe Club was formed.
The group's missions were to provide community CPR/AED instruction and promote CPR/AED awareness, advocate & lobby for heart health at the local and state levels, promote community heart screenings events, provide CPR Anytime toolkits within the community to encourage more people to learn CPR while holding fundraisers to support the club and it’s activities.
The following is from the Heart Safe website.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest in an otherwise healthy young athlete was thought to be quite rare. However, within a fourteen month period in Rhinebeck two young varsity athletes experienced Sudden Cardiac Arrest, one fatally. As we carry out our mission, we celebrate the life of Kaitlin Forbes and the hero’s who saved her life by performing CPR and utilizing an AED. We also honor the memory of Maggie O’Malley, who fell victim to sudden cardiac arrest at only 17 years old. We are dedicated and passionate about this mission…striving for a Heart Safe Community!
Along with the Heart Safe Club, there was another way that Rhinebeck High School was going to remember the girl that always had a smile on her face, The Maggie O'Malley Friendship Tournament.
" Pat, Lenny ( Maggie's father, Len White) and I talked and thought the tournament was a fitting way to remember Maggie every year," said Boucher. " As long as I am at Rhinebeck, we are going to have the Maggie O'Malley Tournament."
When asked to describe Maggie for those who may not have known her, you could hear the pride in Boucher's voice about a one-of-a-kind young lady.
" She was, honest to God, the nicest kid. She cared about everybody, almost too much sometimes. She was always worried about everybody else.Maggie didn't care who you were, she was going to be your friend. She was just a genuinely, nice kid. There is not one fault that I could ever think of. Maggie was special."
Boucher said the tournament is held toward the end of the regular season so that former Hawks players and teammates of O'Malley's are able to attend the festivities, reminisce about the good times and share favorite stories and renew a special bond that they all shared with Maggie.
" I think Maggie lives on in the spirit that is here and through the stories," Boucher said. " Remember to smile even though you day might not be going well. That kid smiled all the time and it was an infectious smile. You look at what Maggie did during her life and she always took the positive from everything. Her friends who started the Heart Safe Club did the same thing by making a postive out of a horrible situation and I think that's a great life lesson."
Late in the day at this year's tournament, the Hawks were deadlocked with Saugerties in extra innings when some friends of Maggie released pink balloons in O'Malley's honor. It was just moments later when a "rainbow-like ball of light" appeared in the sky and Rhinebeck pushed across the winning run.
While walking off the field, Boucher looked in to the sky to see what all the fans were looking at and it was then that he saw the rainbow ball of light shining as bright as Maggie's smile always did and he couldn't help but think that she'd have approved.