Ever since the eighth grade, Liberty High School senior Sarah Suksdorf has been sent reeling by one hard hit after another. First her mother died in a house fire. The next year her father died. The year after that, one of her friends was killed in a car accident.
It’s enough to send most people running for cover, but Suksdorf, 18, pulled herself together. “I found out that no matter how much you don’t think you should still be alive, it’s pretty much impossible to give up on living,” she said.
It was October 2004 when her mother’s longtime boyfriend, who Suksdorf lives with and calls her stepfather, woke up to find the house on fire. According to a Spokesman-Review story, Timothy Lively escaped the home before realizing his girlfriend was still inside. The heat and flames drove him back and Shannon Suksdorf, 38, died in the fire.
Sarah Suksdorf and her younger half-brother had left for school about an hour before the fire. “We never really found out how the fire was caused,” she said. “That day I probably grew up five years within one day. I learned not to care as much about the small stuff.”
Suksdorf said she was out of school for a month trying to recover from the trauma. She wanted to stay in the Spangle area so she opted to live with Lively and her brother instead of moving to Spokane to live with her father. “I wanted to stay in the same school,” she said. “I didn’t want to change anything else.”
Though her grade-point average usually hovers around a 3.6, Suksdorf said she isn’t really sure how she kept going. “I don’t really know that I did stay focused. School has come easy to me.”
For a while, school didn’t seem important, but she still got up every morning and went to class. “I’m not going to give up,” she said.
She loves her small town and small school and goes to almost every basketball game. There are about 150 students in the high school. “I’ve gone there since kindergarten,” she said. “It’s kind of small, so they don’t offer everything that I’d be interested in, but I like knowing everybody.”
She tried Running Start at Eastern Washington University for a quarter during her junior year. “I thought it was really boring,” she said. “I talk to everyone at school, but I don’t really talk to strangers. I didn’t make any friends there and I decided to go back to high school and have fun there.”
But in her own school among her friends she’s much more outgoing. “All of my friends think I’m hilarious,” she said. “I got voted the funniest of all in my senior class.”
She plans to attend Spokane Falls Community College in September, but isn’t sure what to study. “I just know that I love movies and I love creative things,” she said. “I know if I don’t get into something like that I won’t be happy. I’m really into special effects make-up, but I don’t want to move to California. I’m just going to take every possible class that I can that I’m interested in.”
But even then, she’ll stay in the warm embrace of her small town. “I’m going to live at home and commute. It’s not too far from my house.”