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Woman killed while walking dog was a rowing champion, breast cancer survivor

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, at 7:34 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, at 9 a.m.

For Brittany Neigenfind, there were few people as inspiring as her rowing mentor, Beatrice Evelyn “Bea” Ritchie.

“She was always just a really caring person,” Neigenfind said. “She was the first person to greet me when I became part of the Wichita Rowing Association.”

And when Ms. Ritchie went through radiation treatment for breast cancer in 2010, Neigenfind marveled at her stamina.

“She rowed through the radiation treatment,” said Neigenfind, a senior at Maize High School, who shared Ms. Ritchie’s passion for rowing. “She became a motivation for me. When I was tired and didn’t want to go to practice, I thought how she must be really tired but still would go.”

Ms. Ritchie, a geologist and national-caliber rowing competitor, was struck and killed Nov. 21 by a pickup while she and her husband were walking their dog on a gravel road in west Sedgwick County. She was 52. Funeral services will be private.

Ms. Ritchie was born July 6, 1960, in Wilmington, Del., and raised in Kalamazoo, Mich.

In 1981, she received her bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from the University of Michigan. She later received master’s degrees from the University of Oregon and Michigan Technological University.

Last September, she won a gold medal in singles at the U.S. Rowing Masters Nationals Head Race Championship in Cleveland. She also won a silver medal last summer in her age group at the U.S. Rowing Masters National championships in Worcester, Mass.

Her husband, Bob Symonds, said in the past two years his wife – despite her battle with breast cancer in 2010 – won 19 medals at regional and national regattas.

She cared deeply about the outdoors, befriending wildlife, humans and the planet Earth, Symonds said. The couple, who were married for 24 years, moved to Wichita a few years ago.

They were walking together last Wednesday when Symonds said he saw a flash of light out of the corner of his eye.

“I yelled ‘Bea’ and took off running,” Symonds said.

He heard the sound of the accident. Ms. Ritchie and “Dog,” a black Lab she had recently befriended, were killed instantly.

In addition to Symonds, Ms. Ritchie is survived by two sisters, Frances Ritchie Holmes, Arcadia, Mich., and Margaret Ritchie, Kalamazoo; and her mother, Beatrice Ritchie, Kalamazoo.

Donations can be made in Ms. Ritchie’s name to the Wichita Rowing Association online at www.wichitarowing.org or by mailing a check to the Wichita Rowing Association, 16619 Princeton Lane, Clearwater, KS 67026.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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