The legacy of the 23-year-old Hopi woman, killed in Iraq, lives on with the 2018 Fiesta Bowl Lori Piestewa National Native American Games.
Over 3,000 Native American athletes have paid tribute to Quartermaster Lori Piestewa, the first Indigenous female U.S. soldier to be killed in combat, on the 15th anniversary of her death.
The legacy of the 23-year-old Hopi woman lived on with the Saturday celebration of the 2018 Fiesta Bowl Lori Piestewa National Native American Games, which brings together over 50 Native American communities.
"One of Lori's dreams was to bring people together, and by looking out at this crowd, she has accomplished that," said honorary chairwoman Jessica Lynch, Piestewa's best friend and fellow soldier.
"Lori loved sports, so she definitely would have loved to see all these athletes come together and compete."
During the opening ceremony, Lynch recounted their friendship and her friend's final moments on the battlefield. They were traveling together in 2003 when they were ambushed by Iraqi soldiers. Lori was killed, while Lynch was taken hostage until being rescued nine days later.
"We were getting stuck in sand pits and eventually got separated from the rest of the vehicles," Lynch said. "She was so calm throughout it all.
"Then a rocket-propelled grenade hit the rear of the vehicle, causing us to crash into an 18-wheeler. I cried for days after I found out, I felt a lot of survivor's guilt."
Lori's mother, Percy Piestewa, was watching the news when she heard about the attack: "We held a Native American ceremony after he told us to see if Lori was okay. At the end of the ceremony, we knew she had passed on. We were prepared for the news."
Following the Indigenous soldier's death, the Native American Games were renamed in Piestewa's memory.
"Lori was an amazing athlete and I want these kids to remember her for that as well. A lot of these kids weren't born when this happened so it's important to talk about and remind them of her courage," Lynch said.
The annual event takes place over the course of two days while athletes compete in basketball, volleyball, youth baseball, softball, cross country, and track and field.