Nicole Crawford stood at the edge of Red Rock Canyon in Nevada, a pair of oversized sunglasses shading her eyes.
Placing her hands on her hips, she gazed out over the desert, taking in the dark green and red landscape.
From just a few feet away, the 28-year-old appeared relaxed and composed. Save for a few windblown strands, her wavy hair lay perfectly flat against her head and her purplish-blue shirt didn’t show a drop of sweat.
But Ashley Albert, who’d been friends with Nicole since 9th grade, knew there was more than met the eye. No matter how put together her best friend looked, there was almost always a whirlwind of a backstory.
Such was the case on this hot April day in 2013 when Nicole, Albert and their future husbands ventured from the Las Vegas strip, where they were vacationing, to the canyon.
That morning, they had rented a Mustang and set out for what was supposed to be about a 30 minute drive. But somehow, they had ended up outside someone’s home.
They thought they’d plugged in the correct address when they searched “Red Rocks” in the GPS. Yet it wasn’t until they reached a neighborhood – and then when they pulled into a stranger’s driveway – that they realized they were lost.
While the group ultimately made it, “that was Nicole,” Albert said recently as she remembered her close friend, who was killed in Feb. 2021 at the age of 36 at her Bear home.
“She knew exactly what she wanted, but she never really knew how to get there,” Albert said, laughing.
“But she’d always figure out how – and though she’d hit a few walls on the way, nothing was going to stop her.”
For most of her life, Nicole, an elementary school teacher of children with special needs and a mother of two boys, never stopped moving.
She wanted to experience everything the world had to offer, friends and family said – from concerts to 5K charity runs for the Beau Biden Foundation to new destinations. It didn’t matter if she’d never tried something before, she “was going to do it, and you were just along for the ride,” Albert said
Occasionally, this could be frustrating. Because Nicole was always focused on her next adventure, “sometimes you didn’t feel heard,” Albert said.
Yet the woman’s seemingly boundless energy was also one of her greatest strengths.
While she didn’t have dozens of friends, she always made time for those she was close with. And her support for others’ endeavors, no matter how big or small, was “undying.”
Albert fondly remembers when she told Nicole she wanted to breastfeed her first child. Nicole, who had breastfed her own son, was thrilled – she knew that it could be difficult for a lot of first-time moms, but wanted to help Albert any way she could.
Nicole would call her best friend every day, offering tips and tricks. Though she didn’t live far, if Albert said the baby wasn’t latching, Nicole would drop everything to come to her home and show her.
This dedication to her friends and family extended to the children she taught at Charles W. Bush Early Education Center, said Jill Confer, a fellow teacher and another close friend.
Nicole was dyslexic and made it her cause to help children with special needs. Whatever they needed, Confer said, Nicole tried to supply it – which also meant that a closet in her classroom was always overflowing.
The closet, which one had to open at their own peril, was filled with learning materials and education plans, as well as every toy a child could want.
She even borrowed toys from her sons if she didn’t have a particular item at school, Confer said.
“She always was determined to find a way to meet the needs of all of her students,” Confer said. “She was so high-energy and so passionate about her kids and their families.”
That passion extended to her own family, too.
Nicole adored her sons, Albert and Confer both said, and wanted them to experience as much of life as they could, despite their young age.
While some parents wait until their kids are old enough to remember excursions, that wasn’t Nicole – as young as 1, she took the boys apple picking and hiking and to Disney and Toronto, Canada.
She wanted them to play and grow and learn, Albert said, which they did. She added that much of that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Nicole’s mother, Araina Crawford – whom she called Nicole’s “biggest support and best friend.”
“They drove each other crazy, but Nicole drove us all a little crazy,” Albert said recently. “She was our joy.”
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