Susan Barksdale


Tribute to Katie Hancock

The obituary of Katie Hancock tells the story of a young, vibrant teenager whose life was cut short, and for Bikram Yoga students, one line jumps out: In June 2014, Katie attended her first Bikram Yoga class and discovered a hidden passion. With the help of young women and men in her Rock Creek Ward, Katie completed her 30-day challenge on July 25, 2014. Namaste! 


Fifteen-year-old Katie died instantly in a head-on collision on July 24. Susan Barksdale, Katie's young women leader and a regular at our 6 a.m. class, heard about the accident on the news. At that point, no names had been released, but Susan had a sinking feeling that she was going to know who had died. 


"When I found out it was Katie, I was heartbroken," Susan said. "We'd just gone to a class earlier that day. When Katie realized she was only one class away from finishing her 30-day challenge, she got so excited! She picked out her final sticker and hid it because it was the last one of that kind, and all she talked about on the way home was how much she was looking forward to finishing that challenge." 


Katie and several of her friends had been attending Bikram Yoga all summer long with Susan, who faithfully made the rounds in the wee hours of the morning to gather her young teenage friends and bring them to the studio. A junior high school teacher and regular at Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas for the past year, Susan originally planned on taking the summer off. 


"For some reason, that didn't feel right," she says now. "I found out that a few of these girls, who I'd been working with for years, were going to be moving at the end of the summer, and I wanted to do something with them this summer that had the potential to change their lives. I talked to Joanne and asked if I could take turns bringing one teenager each class, and of course, she agreed. But then the kids all wanted to come; they didn't want to take turns. I felt like I needed to bring these kids to as many classes as I could, so I usually ended up with anywhere from four to six kids each morning. Some days it was the last thing I wanted to do, but by the end of class, it always felt worthwhile." 


As the news of Katie spread, Susan began hearing from her friends, with one message: We want to finish Katie's 30-day challenge for her. Can we? 


So early on the morning of July 25, Susan made the rounds again. The group this time was quiet and somber as together they shed tears and remembered their friend. When they arrived in the studio, Susan briefly explained the situation to Joanne, who absolutely supported the idea. In fact, halfway through class, Joanne stopped teaching long enough to mention to everyone in attendance that she felt Katie was there, finishing her challenge along with her friends. After class, everyone posed for a picture and they printed out a list of all those in attendance. Katie's parents displayed the photo and the list of class members, along with her yoga mat and 30-day challenge sticker chart, at her funeral. 


"Yoga meant that much to Katie," observes Susan, who spoke at the funeral and feels that yoga played a significant role in each of those teenagers' lives this summer. "They learned they could do hard things," she says, "and they learned to they could finish what they start." Two of the teens have finished their own 30-day challenge, and two more plan to finish their challenges this week. By the end of the summer, all but one of these teenagers will have moved away and moved on, leaving Susan with precious memories of a summer devoted to service to others and making a difference where it mattered most. 


"Susan is absolutely amazing in her commitment to these young teenagers," says Joanne. "She cares about them and is devoted to doing all she can. Watching her do so much for them--and seeing them change throughout the summer--was inspiring. And to have it all come together in this experience where these friends wanted to help Katie finish her challenge is something I'll never forget." 


And Susan expresses the same feelings for Joanne and those at the studio. "These kids felt so special at the studio," she says. "Brick Canvas is a beautiful place, an elegant place, and you could tell when they walked in, they were impressed. And then to be so warmly greeted by everyone. . . they felt accepted and wanted and appreciated. To be part of something like that is something they'll never forget."