In June of 2010, Abby Gibson was at a horseback riding camp that she had participated in every summer for several years. The horse she was riding stumbled on the landing of a jump — a jump that she had been previously cleared twice. Abby lost her balance and fell. She got back up and thought she was OK.
But Abby suffered a fractured liver and ruptured spleen from the fall. She was flown to UT Medical Center for emergency surgery but ultimately lost her battle to those injuries.
Abby dreamed of growing up and becoming a veterinarian. To keep her memory alive, Abby's mother and UT student Jennifer Gibson-Boyle established the Abby Elliott Gibson Memorial Scholarship. Gibson-Boyle was given ten years to reach the $25,000 amount needed to endow the scholarship — the goal was reached in just two.
"We asked that in lieu of flowers, people make donations to the scholarship we would be establishing for her," Gibson-Boyle said.
In addition to the private donations, UT Medical Center, PetSafe and Home Depot donated to the scholarship. The family came together and raised $2,000, and Gibson-Boyle established the annual "Walk and Wag Dog Walk" to continue to raise money for the scholarship.
Gibson-Boyle's goal is to raise another $25,000 so that a larger scholarship can be awarded. Claire Eldridge, director of development at UT's College of Veterinary Medicine, is confident that Gibson-Boyle will reach her goal.
"There is no doubt in my mind that she will achieve this, likely in the next two years," Eldridge said. "Jennifer managed to both develop and oversee this event while a full-time student here at UT in the College of Communication and Information. I enjoyed working with her very much."
Gibson-Boyle, a senior in communication studies, stated that organizing the "Walk and Wag" and the scholarship fund has helped greatly in her grieving process.
"I have tried my best to create something positive," she said. "I just try to do what I think she would want me to do. I want Abby to be remembered for who she was and not what happened to her. The scholarship and the dog walk are special ways we have chosen to honor Abby's life, her love of animals and her dream to become a veterinarian."
The Abby Elliott Gibson Memorial Scholarship is given to a veterinary student from an East Tennessee high school who has demonstrated commitment to the field though volunteer hours and plans to specialize in large, small or mixed animal practice. Ellen Yungmeyer, a graduate student at UTCVM, is the first recipient of the scholarship.
"I am flattered and honored to be the first recipient of Abby's memorial scholarship," Yungmeyer said. "From everything I hear, Abby was a vibrant girl that loved life as much as she loved animals. Her memory will be an inspiration to me as I begin my career in veterinary medicine."
Those interested in supporting the scholarship are invited to participate in the "2nd Annual Walk and Wag" on June 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Victor Ashe Park. More information can be found at knoxvillewalkandwag.com. The "Walk and Wag" can also be liked on Facebook and followed on Twitter.