The Scoop - Courageous

"I was three or four when my mom left" - Caitlin Mehl

Caitlin and her Dad David MehlThe hallowed mountaintops surrounding China’s ancient cities reveal a setting where the past intersects with the present. History snakes through the wrinkled countryside the same way the Yangtze snakes through distant villages. And if character is forged over time, then it’s easy to understand Caitlin Mehl’s attraction to this place.

Mehl was born in Benbrook, Texas, on Dec. 14, 1989, and raised in a single-parent household. Her father, David Mehl, raised his only daughter the best way he knew how. The two spent their summers relaxing at the beach, riding roller coasters and taking family vacations. But as Mehl matured in age, she soon realized that certain discussions required a mother’s perspective.

She often asked relatives about her mother, but she usually heard the same response, “You’re too young to understand. We’ll tell you more when you’re older.” Mehl later learned that her parents divorced when she was one year old. She initially lived with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend for two years until reports of abuse surfaced. Mehl’s mother eventually cut off all communication with her daughter in 1993.

“I was three or four when my mom left,” Mehl said. “People tell me I look like her, but all I have are my own memories because no one really talks about her.” 

Mehl was forced to accept the fact that her mother would not be around to watch her grow from a curious girl into an accomplished young woman. Mehl never saw her mother cheering from the bleachers when she took her first swing in a Little League softball game, nor was her mother present when she earned her Bo-Dan Red Belt in Tai Kwan Do, placing her one level shy from the black belt.

“Of course it bothered me and it definitely felt unfair at times, but I think that life is a random string of events that bounce off each other,” Mehl said. “I could have just as easily been in another family and in another situation.”

So rather than dwell on what she did not have, Mehl focused her attention on what she did: creativity and imagination. She translated her bottled emotions into vibrant poems as early as middle school. And when Mehl enrolled in R.L. Paschal High School in Fort Worth for her freshman year in 2005, she took full advantage of her academic opportunities.

In addition to her course work, she joined an eclectic mix of extracurricular activities, including memberships in the National Honor Society, the Computer Science Competition Team, the Free Tibet Club and the Paschal Young Democrats. Her involvement in the Free Tibet Club kick-started an idea of traveling to China to better understand the roots of the Chinese-Tibetan conflict.

Caitlin's Photo Album

Caitlin with dormmates and one of her professor's at Princeton University through the JSA program. Caitlin and her host sister feed a few goats after visiting a local temple. Caitlin with friends from her Kung Fu classes. Caitlin in a politics class in Jiujiang. Caitlin's math homework. Caitlin at Lake Tahoe on a family vacation. Caitlin with other American Field Service exhange students.

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