Aubrey Olson, 23, fought to live a full life

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2010 - 8:23 PM

She and her brother both had a neuromuscular disease. They died within 2 months of each other.

Aubrey Olson and her dog, Kethry.

Together, Nicholas and Aubrey Olson were "a dynamic duo," a brother and sister determined to achieve despite the degenerative neuromuscular disease that afflicted both since they were children.

In 1998-99, they were national co-ambassadors for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. This summer, they've been united in death. On Saturday, Aubrey, 23, succumbed to complications of the disease, Friedreich's ataxia, two months after Nicholas, 21, died.

Their mother, Cindy Olson of Pine City, said Monday that her daughter couldn't sleep after Nicholas died: "She just grieved so hard," she said. "And with her condition, she didn't have a lot of reserves."

Aubrey Olson spent more time in the hospital during the last nine months than she did at home, her mother said. She shattered her right elbow during a hunting trip last November. Her kidneys failed, too, putting pressure on a heart weakened by her disease.

But Aubrey also left the hospital in February to play with a wheelchair soccer team in St. Louis. And despite being unable to complete course work due to the broken elbow, she participated in graduation ceremonies last May at the University of Minnesota.

Aubrey had studied for a degree in child psychology, accompanied by a service dog, Kethry, a black Labrador retriever known for snoring during classes.

The graduation ceremony was "wonderful," her mother said. "Aubrey marched with all the graduates down the mall up to Northrop Auditorium. All that youth and knowledge -- ready to conquer the world."

Vibrant sister-brother pair

Mike Blishak, vice president of community programs for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., said "Aubrey and Nick were such fighters, very positive, spirited, wonderful."

As co-ambassadors, they appeared with Jerry Lewis during the Labor Day telethon, and traveled the country, too.

In Pine City, physical reminders remain of the duo's lives and passions. Nicholas earned Eagle Scout honors by building a wheelchair-accessible ramp at Robinson Park. At Java Joe's Bistro is the head of a moose that Aubrey bagged during a 2008 hunting trip.

Cindy Olson said that the two children, who were diagnosed with the disease when they were 5 and 7, taught her how to live in the moment -- that "what's happening now is what's important." Now she wonders about the family's future.

"It is going to be hard for us to fill this void and reinvent our lives," she said. "They have been part of our pulse. They were our focus. They defined us. They inspired us."

Services for Aubrey will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 825 Golf Av. SW., Pine City. In addition to her parents, Cindy and Bruce, Aubrey is survived by her sister, Brittney, and her grandparents, John and Joyce Olson.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109

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