Rachael De Jong drowned near Taupo on Waitangi Day - one of 31 drownings so far this summer. Ahead of her funeral today, her family have written this tribute.
• By Matt Wenham (Uncle Matt). On behalf of Kev, Roz, Daniel, Michael and Chris.
Rachael Louise De Jong lived life in a regal sense. At 21 she was the Princess destined to be Queen and her subjects were her family and friends and all that met her. She was bright, she was effervescent and always had a stunning smile that brought joy to all those around her. She was kind and caring and had a selflessness that attracted people to her like bees to their Queen. Rachael was, almost incidentally (in her eyes) stunningly beautiful and had the physical athleticism and powerful grace of an Amazon Queen, and the hunger to display that athleticism in her many physical pursuits, enjoying the physical supremacy that mere mortals can only sit back and admire.
People like this are rare in any age. They are, like Rachael, born to it. A champion delivered to us via the universal mystery of genetics and blood lines that are pure. Magic happens and the world breathes a sigh of relief at the child who is born to lead and has an unmistakable presence. We are all drawn to the light.
Rachael's blood lines are cast. The 2nd generation New Zealander of two Dutch Immigrant families. De Jong and Sellmeyer.
Shared family values of hard work, togetherness and bettering their children's lives pervade these 2 families. Like most immigrant families money is hard to come by and her parents grow with a sense of knowing the value of a dollar and the knowledge that not all there is to life can be bought.
And so on the 3rd of April 1995 a special child is born. She is raised with these same core values, alongside her younger brothers Daniel and Michael, with parents who provide her with all that she needs but without a sense of entitlement. Rachael is most definitely the "apple of her father's eye" and both she and her father share something that is unique in many people's eyes. Best friends.
Like other people of pureness and greatness, success comes quickly and easily. Rachael excels at trampolining, basketball, volleyball, beach volleyball and rugby, and is at ease snow skiing and snowboarding. She is a natural athlete in the water with a love of wakeboarding, waterskiing and boating. A physical talent good enough to be an age group rep at basketball and volleyball, and a New Zealand age group representative in Beach Volleyball.
Academically Rachael excels at school where she receives the Junior Sports Leader award at Long Bay College. Unusually perhaps, in this day and age, Rachael meets her life partner Chris while at high school. Her true love. They grow together. Happy and content and in sync in a world where many of these things are transient or absent in relationships around them. There is no doubt that to their families that "he'll be her King".
Rachael turns her attention to studying physiotherapy on graduating. With 2 Aunts as physiotherapists she is following another calling from her bloodlines. She has healing hands and a selflessness required to put other people's health at the focus of her life.
While completing her 3rd year of study Rachael has a career epiphany. She doesn't seek the easy path. "Strapping ankles" is not her calling. Working with spinal cord injured patients is what she is drawn to. Possibly the most demanding field of physiotherapy and one that requires true selflessness and the ability to handle the pain and loss that these patients almost always have to go through. It is not the well trodden path. It is the path less chosen. Rachael says to her father "These people do not know what they are capable of. I can show them". Her tutors recognise her desire, dedication and passion for her studies calling her a very bright star, and offer her a coveted research project space over this summer. These projects are funded and targeted towards only the very top students at AUT's Physiotherapy School.
And so it seems to make no sense that this girl, who would be Queen, dies tragically in a swimming accident in Taupo on Waitangi day 2017. It is neither right nor deserved, and for all who knew her it is inconceivable that this bright, intelligent leader with the physical power to escape all potential harm is taken from us.
This is not the time for telling the harrowing story of what happened to Rachael and 6 friends as they went to the swimming hole that day. Her death is truly the result of a cataclysmic series of events with a group thrown into panic. During the furore of the rising storm of turbulent water Rachael managed to get to safety and then set about assisting the rescue of 3 of her friends.
Perhaps inexplicable to some, but not to all of those who knew her, Rachael decided to dive into that raging torrent to try and save her best friend who was being swept away in the vortex of water. She got to her friend. Her very best friend. One that she had known for every single day of her 21 years on this earth. She fought the water in a superhuman attempt to rescue them both. But ultimately the river won.
She will be forever remembered as a heroine every Waitangi day.