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Fatal crash victim described as ‘light in your life'

Athlete had overcome rare genetic disorder.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 6:59 pm

There's an anonymous quote on Brooke Peters' Facebook page that paints a far more descriptive picture of the 20-year-old Hamilton native and Marquette University student than any of the tragic images from a Monday afternoon crash that took her life.

“Don't give up, through it all just stand up,” the quote reads.

Peters, 20, faced a life of uphill battles after being diagnosed as a child with a rare genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis, which grows tumors on nerve tissue and compresses the surrounding nerves and tissues, essentially rendering the afflicted area helpless.

Helpless for most, at least.

Peters chose instead to undergo 19 corrective surgeries at Shriners Hospital in Chicago that, eventually, saved a leg. The girl who was once told she'd never walk then defied further odds by having a remarkable volleyball career at Hamilton Community High School.

Peters' defiance and unwillingness to fold in the fight against a ravaging disease earned her an award of courage in 2007 from the National Federation of State High School Associations for her demonstration of “mental strength to overcome physical … barriers.”

Peters also managed both the boys basketball and baseball teams at Hamilton, in addition to an academic career highlighted by a National Honors Society membership.

Academics and athletics took her to Marquette, where, driven by a life of surgeries, she studied physical therapy.

The schooling didn't break for summers for Peters, who was enrolled in a chemistry course at IPFW.

The 40-minute drive from the Fort Wayne campus back to her Hamilton Lake home would prove her last.

Peters was returning from the class when she called her mother, Tonya Peters, to check if she needed anything before she left Fort Wayne.

The two hung up, and Peters continued home.

Fifteen minutes later, a family friend called Peters to set up a swim with Brooke Peters and her mother.

“We were waiting on her and she didn't come and she didn't come …,” said Tonya Peters.

While stopped at U.S. 6 and County Road 24 in DeKalb County, Brooke Peters' vehicle was slammed hard from the rear. The impact pushed the vehicle into oncoming traffic on westbound U.S. 6 and into the path of a dump truck, which struck her vehicle.

The latter crash killed Brooke Peters. Emotionally, it killed Tonya Peters, too.

“You go numb after a while,” said Tonya Peters.

Tonya Peters alternated speaking of her daughter in the present and past tenses during an interview some 24 hours after the crash, often pausing to compose herself and her thoughts.

Tonya Peters said very simply that she loves her daughter beyond explanation and that she has not had an opportunity to fully grasp losing her.

She wasn't the only one.

“The whole community loved her,” said Tonya Peters. “If you met her – she was a blessing. She was the light in your life. She really was.”