Kierra Juergens Reichert was born Oct. 7, 2003, in Anchorage, Alaska, to Nancy Juergens and Joe Reichert. At the time the family lived in Talkeetna, a small, close-knit community at the confluence of three rivers with breathtaking views of the Alaska Range. Joe was a mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park. Nancy, a former schoolteacher, had bought a postal van that was converted into an ice cream truck. She played Johnny Cash on its loudspeaker instead of jingles and installed a baby seat for Kierra, so her daughter could ride along and help dispense ice cream to summer tourists.
Soon Nancy and Joe’s home was filled with constant toddler chatter, but Kierra was so quiet in the presence of strangers that they often wondered if she could speak. Something else was unusual: As a baby Kierra never crawled. Instead, she scooched across the floor on her rear end. Her parents worried that something might be wrong. And then one day, Nancy looked over and found Kierra standing up and walking. She moved with such confidence that Nancy walked with her for 45 minutes. Her daughter had bypassed all of the things that babies do, when learning to walk: groping for handholds. Wobbly first attempts. Falling. Kierra had studied the problem, unhurried. And once she had figured it out, she simply did it well.
This would be a pattern: Kierra contemplated ideas in her head, often not letting on what she was thinking before acting. As a child, Nancy found her daughter sitting for a long time at her kiddie table, saying nothing. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Writing a story,” Kierra replied. A little later Kierra took a pencil and began to write. The story was fully realized, with characters, action, vivid detail. She was simply transcribing, by then; she had already seen the story play out in her imagination. Later, they watched her apply this same internal process to her homework. She didn’t discuss her work much, and then didn’t tackle it until it was nearly due, which could look like disorganization. But she always pulled it off, with good grades.
The family still lived in Talkeetna when Joe first began to read the entire Black Stallion series to Kierra at bedtime. Kierra had never seen a horse in real life. Still, she was captivated. “Dad, keep reading,” she would say, poking him, if he drifted off in the middle of a chapter. When the family moved to the Methow in 2010, in part to give their children different opportunities — Kierra now in first grade at Methow Valley Community School — she began to take riding lessons. Her infatuation deepened. She became a student of horses. On the playground she would not run. First, she broke into a trot, then a canter and finally a gallop, changing her feet at each stage to the correct equine rhythm. At home she arranged jumps in the backyard and leaped over them. Sometimes she recruited her brother, Raiff Reichert, three years younger, to pull her in a small cart, as she waved a kiddie riding crop. “It was hours of playing and laughing — on Kierra’s terms,” says Nancy.
When the family moved to a home in Winthrop that has a fenced pasture, Kierra wanted to board horses. She was 10. Her parents cautiously agreed to let her care for two. After dark, Nancy watched her daughter from the window as she ran to feed them, then watched Kierra lie on a horse’s back and look up at the stars. Kierra paid in part for her riding lessons through that work. She became a very good rider, eventually competing in dressage and show jumping for the Methow Valley Riding Unlimited team, and also competed in cross country, her favorite competition that takes place over varied terrain.
What mattered most, though, was to be on, or near, horses. Before graduating she cut class to go trail riding with friends — a very Methow truancy. Joe and Nancy have a picture of the outing on their wall. The spring light stretches soft and purple over the valley. Five friends stand on the backs of the horses, feet on the saddles, everyone 10 feet tall. They are all smiling. No one smiles wider than Kierra.
Meanwhile, the child who had been so quiet among strangers had long since disappeared. By high school Kierra moved with a kind of boldness. This boldness wasn’t arrogance. Instead, she moved with the certainty of a young woman who willingly steps toward new experiences, and new people. She seemed to sense instinctively that life is most interesting, and often the most satisfying, when we put ourselves in unfamiliar terrain. Most of us forget this, or else we shrink from it. Once Kierra knew what interested her, though, she felt no need to stay with the herd — literally. She continued to ride horses competitively into her high school years. It was the same with downhill ski racing: She raced slalom on a collegiate club circuit while in high school, her father taking her to races, long after friends had given up ski racing. When ice hockey looked interesting, she dove in, not worrying that she was years behind the skill level of her friends. What mattered most to Kierra was spending time outside with friends. Quietly, internally, she pushed herself hard in all the sports she tried.
But her boldness frequently wasn’t like her thought process, internal and considered. It could be spontaneous. In the Honors College at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she was a freshman last year, she did not have ski partners who could keep up, so she went to nearby Lake Tahoe and skied by herself. One day last winter she called Nancy from the chairlift: There’s a concert down at the base, she said, with a band. Old people like you are dancing, Mom, she joked. “I’m headed there now.” Once there, she threw herself in among the strangers, alone, and happy. How many of us could do that, and as a teenager?
But it came easily to Kierra. She was a “boundary spanner,” someone who bridges different social worlds, not needing to be at the center of any of them, says Scott Barber, who started teaching her in junior high, and then several times at Liberty Bell High School. She moved seamlessly among the school’s different cliques. Outside of school, it can be awkward when a teacher and teenage student run into each other. But when Kierra saw Barber in the lift line at Loup Loup Ski Bowl she waved, then rode the lift with him and talked the entire way up, sharp and confident, he remembers. She spoke to him like an equal. She was intellectually hungry, loved to spar and she didn’t need the approval of others, said Barber. He considered her a leading mind of her graduating class.
In college, Kierra had an assignment to interview a professor. She sat down with a favorite journalism professor who she admired and asked him, “What are you going to do about the climate crisis?” He replied, “The solution to the climate crisis is people like you” — people who can relate to others, and make them not feel isolated in their corners. Kierra’s confidence grew. “I know how to do this,” she told her mother. She wasn’t sure how she would use her skill, yet. But she was excited to find out. She also had recently begun a summer job working for the Methow Valley Ranger District on their Developed Recreation Crew. It promised to be challenging at times. That’s exactly what she wanted. “I want to make myself uncomfortable this year,” she told Nancy.
There is so much more about Kierra and her passions. She loved eggs from her family’s chickens. Sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Alaska and its untameable wildness. Skiing with her father. Hiking with her mother. Rock climbing with her family. Snuggling with her beloved dog, Keena. Mining the chocolate chip ice cream for the chunks before she replaced the carton in the freezer. Most of all, Kierra loved her brother, Raiff.
She was full of contradictions — strong-willed and able to test her parent’s patience, but also poised and gentle. She was dependable, yet she operated on “Kierra Time,” able to keep the family waiting in the car for 15 minutes before she appeared, unruffled. She was complex in the way interesting people are.
We are devasted by our loss of Kierra and for all that she had yet to experience. We are pained to imagine her unlived dreams, her goals yet to be set. But we are better for having known and loved Kierra. We are only less if we do not remember her, and her boldness.
In addition to her parents and brother, Kierra is survived by her grandparents George and Ann Reichert, and by several aunts, uncles and cousins in California and Massachusetts. Grandparents Dona and John Juergens and Katherine Reichert are no longer living.
The family invites the community to Kierra Juergens Reichert’s memorial on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 2 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn. A reception with food and drinks will follow. Please bring plates, utensils and a cup.
Donations can be made to the Methow Valley Education Foundation, which saw Kierra’s potential and had awarded her a four-year scholarship.