FRUITPORT – As author James Patterson once wrote, “The weird thing about devastating loss is that life actually goes on. When you’re faced with a tragedy, a loss so huge that you have no idea how you can live through it, somehow, the world keeps turning, the seconds keep ticking.”

For Fruitport sophomore soccer player Gracelynn Olson, those seconds have turned to months and now a year. She’s still processing a big loss while plowing ahead through a challenging season.

Olson grew up just four houses down from her friend Alia Zuidema. The two girls attended went Grand Haven Christian together after being in the same toddler classes before kindergarten.

The two of them played on the same travel basketball team coached by Olson’s father, Jared.

They followed different paths when it was time for middle school, but never lost their friendship.

Gracelynn Olson visits the grave of her friend, Alia Zuidema, who played soccer at Western Michigan Christian. 

Olson enrolled at Fruitport while Zuidema moved on to Western Michigan Christian.

“It was extremely tight,” said Anne Zuidema about the connection her daughter shared with Olson. “Especially in their younger years. They played on a basketball team together and they were both extremely competitive. But they had a lot of fun together. Even though they ended up at different middle schools and high schools, they remained close friends. They had a really strong bond.”

Another bond that connected the two was both playing high school soccer.

Just last week on May 8, the two friends would have been facing off on the field when Western Michigan Christian traveled to Fruitport for a non-conference matchup.

Olson wears No. 16 this season, the same number Zuidema wore at WMC. Photo/Jeremy Clark

However, on April 29, 2023, Zuidema’s life was cut short at the age of 15.

“She passed away from a medical emergency,” Anne Zuidema said of her daughter’s tragic passing. “We were told it was septic shock.”

That very unexpected tragedy was devastating for Olson, and the loss really hit home when the soccer season rolled around this spring.

But Olson has used the season to maintain an emotional connection with her friend and honor her memory.

A big part of that was her decision to wear No. 16 on her jersey this season – the same number Alia wore at Western Michigan Christian.

“It was a place where I felt, and still feel, I get to connect to Alia,” Olson said about the soccer field. “She was an amazing soccer player, and it was her passion. I feel like I get to be with her and connect with her because she loved it so much.

Olson unleashes a shot in the game against WMC last week. Photo/Jeremy Clark

“The day after I found out she passed, I had a soccer game and I played so hard because I wanted to play for her. Jordyn (Fruitport junior varsity coach Jordyn Stanberry) was so supportive and helped me through everything.”

As time went on, Olson tried to find purpose in the loss.

“At first, it was really hard for me,” she said. “I had lost another friend recently and didn’t understand. As time went on, I had to remember God has a plan and a purpose. I’ll keep remembering her and living for her. I’m doing what she would want me to do.”

Like most people who grieve, anniversary dates will always stick out. For Olson, April 29, 2024 was a hard one-year reminder.

“That was a really hard day for me,” she said. “I didn’t make it through the day. I came home and cried a lot. It hits you again that you’re not going to see her. I can’t go over to her house and check on her. It just hits you and it’s hard. Especially that one year mark, realizing I’ve lived one year without her.

“Going into the soccer season, I really hoped I could get her number. I play for her and want to honor her. Wearing that jersey is really special and it brings me closer to her.”

Olson battles a WMC player for the ball. Photo/Jeremy Clark

That gesture means a great deal to the Zuidema family.

“It’s extremely special to us,” Anne Zuidema said. “They were friends all the way through elementary and middle school. It means so much that Alia impacted her life that heavily that she wants to honor her in soccer.”

Olson’s coach, Kyle Hall, is proud of his young center back and what she’s chosen to do with her number.

“That’s a testament to Alia and the fact that the game goes beyond soccer lines,” Hall said. “Grace wearing 16 is a tribute to her. You may be opponents or competitors, but we’re all one when we step off the field. Life happens off the field. It’s just humbling to remember that life goes way beyond the game of soccer.”

The fact that life goes beyond the game isn’t lost on Olson, who feels like the loss of her friend gives her a daily reminder of how she needs to proceed in life.

“Live life to the fullest because you never know when it could be your last day or a loved one’s last day,” she said.  eddie