When Lexie Kamerman, then a star offensive player for Knox’s water polo team, hung back during a defensive play against rival Lindenwood University in 2007, her good friend and classmate John Baillie knew she was getting tired. He knew she had a habit of hanging back when fatigue set in.
“Ironically, swimming was her least favorite part of playing water polo,” Baillie said.
A moment later, he screamed.
Lindenwood’s goalie left the net wide open.
A Grinnell player watching from the sideline flung her cell phone behind her and plunged, fully clothed, into the pool.
In an instant, they had all realized that the elbow Kamerman took to the face on the previous play had knocked her out. Unthinkingly, they rushed to the aid of their “fierce competitor” who, according to coach Jonathan Powers, “won the respect” of everyone she faced in the pool.
“Panic just swept the room,” Baillie said. “It was a sign of how much she meant to people.”
As friends, family, classmates and colleagues remember Kamerman, a 2008 Knox graduate who died last Friday during a terror attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, they radiate fondness for the life she lived, remembering her passion for her work and a woman who was quintessentially Knox.
Passion for students
Xavier Romano, Knox’s dean of students until 2010 and a mentor to Kamerman, remembers her decision to pursue a career in student development.
“I remember how excited I was,” Romano told TKS in a phone interview. “She really believed in the power of individuals to make a difference in the lives of others. She was the epitome of the best of the Knox community.”
At the time of her death, Kamerman was a student development employee at American University of Afghanistan, where she worked to help Afghan women get a college education. She previously worked in student development at Elon University and held a position with the Collegiate Water Polo Association.
“She really valued her students above all else,” Carmen Knight ‘08 said.
Knight, a friend and sorority sister of Kamerman, spoke of Kamerman’s desire to share her experience at Knox with students abroad.
“She found what she needed at Knox, and she wanted to give that to other students, not only in the United States, which she did,” Knight said. “She saw that this was an opportunity for her to help not only female students in Afghanistan, but male students as well.”
“She was making a spectacular reputation for herself in the profession,” Romano said. “This was somebody who was on a meteoric rise.”
A ‘fierce competitor’
“It was one of the worst moments for me as a coach,” Powers said. “I was a wreck.”
Kamerman was on her way to the hospital, and her teammates were distraught. There were still about four minutes left to play in the game, and Powers was faced with the decision of whether to continue.
“We’ve got to play, and we’ve got to win,” Powers recalls teammate Erin Vorenkamp ‘09 saying. “Because if we don’t, Lexie will kick our butts.”
And they came out on top. As Baillie remembers it, they won by one point — with a goal off the opposing goalie’s face.
Her teammates were inspired to win for Kamerman who was, according to Powers, responsible for taking the women’s team to the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s national tournament.
“She was arguably the most talented player that I’ve ever had the opportunity–” he pauses. “I was going to say coach, but she was so skilled that I couldn’t coach her.”
According to Powers, Kamerman could have competed in a Division I environment with a varsity scholarship, even when water polo scholarships are limited. But she was drawn to Knox’s small school environment.
“In the co-ed season, she’d be matched up with guys, and more often than not, she would hold her own — or even more than that,” Powers said.
Life at Knox
Kamerman was an anthropology and sociology and environmental studies double major and involved with the Pi Beta Phi sorority while at Knox.
Philanthropy was at the forefront of Kamerman’s interests even as an undergraduate, particularly Pi Beta Phi’s literacy campaign, Hurricane Katrina relief and the yearly Polar Plunge held to raise funds for the Special Olympics.
Kamerman ensured that other students made the most of their experiences as well, going as far as to bring newly arrived freshmen to college events and Prairie Fire games, Knight said.
“She just really brought people together, and I loved that about her.”
She was also a committed student. Professor of Anthropology Nancy Eberhardt remembers Kamerman as an active participant in class.
“When I think of Lexie, I picture her coming into class with a smile on her face and talking animatedly with her classmates,” Eberhardt said. “She was a high-energy person, warm and outgoing, easy to talk to.”
Kamerman’s passion was not lost on her professors.
“I will always remember Lexie as someone who was driven to apply the insights she was learning about in the classroom to real-life situations… I know it made me think harder about the practical implications of whatever it was we were studying. And that was a good thing, something that will stay with me,” Eberhardt said.
During her time at Knox, Kamerman studied abroad in Tanzania, an experience that both Knight and Eberhardt said had a tremendous influence on her future plans.
“After she came back from that, she seemed especially eager to explore issues of cultural difference and really started to pay attention to this in her studies,” Eberhardt said. “So it makes sense to me that she wanted to pursue that even further by taking on the position in Afghanistan.”
In honor of Kamerman’s life, a Knox scholarship has been created in her name.
“She really did dive headfirst into everything she did — with a passion,” Baillie said.
Whether it be a victory in a water polo game, or her dedication to her students in Afghanistan, it was clear that Kamerman had a vision and an unrelenting drive to see her vision come alive.
“Lexie was not content to sit back and be a spectator. She was determined to get involved and make things happen,” Eberhardt said. “And in her all-too-short life, it is clear that she accomplished a lot.”
As the final few minutes of the Lindenwood game played out, Baillie went along with Kamerman to the hospital, and he was one of the first to see her after she came to. She was confused, but only one thing was on her mind.
“How’s it going?” Baillie asked her.
“John. Did we win?”
Digital Editor Chelsea Embree, Copy Editor Ellen Lipo and Co-News Editor Kate Mishkin contributed to this report.