Larissa Estrada packed a lot of life into her short 13 years, and not just on the soccer field, where her play inspired shouts of ¡Dále Lari! from her fans. In Spanish, it means "Go Lari!"
Now, Dale Lari is the name of a project memorializing her for North Carolina and her family's home country of Nicaragua. Larissa, who lived in Sampson County and traveled every day to Raleigh to play on the elite traveling team of the Capital Area Soccer League, died violently in December 2012. Her father shot and killed her, then killed himself.
I recently met Edwin Estrada, Larissa's only sibling. He told me that for days after her death, Larissa's many friends in Sampson County and from CASL, and a lot of young people who'd only heard of Larissa from CASL, crowded into his mother's house in Newton Grove, "sharing a life that was full of good memories and holding each other up."
That's when Edwin and his friend and business partner Saul Flores decided that, to transcend the sadness, they must find a way to carry her memory forward.
Because they did, Estrada is able to talk about her now—after months when he couldn't. Her grace, drive and passion for soccer and for helping others through soccer are what inspired Dale Lari.
When Larissa made the jump to CASL, she noticed that the players quickly outgrew their equipment, especially their cleats. From trips to Nicaragua to visit her cousins, she already knew that very few kids there played soccer (because of U.S. occupation a century ago, they play baseball) and the ones who did played in sneakers or bare feet.
She began rounding up her friends' used cleats and gear, boxing it up and taking or sending it to an uncle in Nicaragua. After hearing about CASL, the uncle started a CASL-like club called Cachorros ("young pups") in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital.
Before long, supplying the Cachorros club became a CASL-sanctioned program—which is why so many CASL players knew and loved the precocious youngster.
Dale Lari builds on Larissa's work. Edwin and Saul Flores are raising money to buy a bus—a used school bus—and drive it this fall from Raleigh to Miami, where they'll put it on a ship for transport to Managua. Edwin is getting his commercial driver's license. He'll be at the wheel. Saul will go as a volunteer.
En route to Miami, the two will be stopping to collect used soccer gear and take it with them to Nicaragua. First stops: CASL games. After that: High school games, college games, wherever there's used equipment and people collecting it who've heard of Dale Lari and want to help.
The bus trip is intended to be both symbolic and practical. Symbolic in the sense that Larissa's chance to play high-level soccer depended on her mother or father driving her to Raleigh—there was no bus. There's no soccer bus in Managua either, which limits the Cochorros club's ability to expand.
Having a bus, Estrada said, will help Cachorros spread soccer outside of Managua, starting teams in small towns and bringing them to the capital. It will let Cachorros compete in neighboring Guatemala, where soccer is king. And when Cachorros don't need the bus, they will rent it out—which will help the club raise money for travel and food.
Estrada is 27, an N.C. State graduate in engineering with software know-how. I wrote about Flores in early 2012, after he walked 5,000 miles from Ecuador to El Paso, Texas taking photographs and documenting life in Central America for what became a marvelous traveling exhibit called "Footprints."
Flores, 24, handles the design and videographer side of their business, Pixbit, a multimedia, web design and mobile-apps development firm. Estrada is the tech side.
Put them together, and Dale Lare is an amazing venture—a bus, yes, but also a website (dalelari.com), videos, a social-media campaign from here to Nicaragua, and an effort to model a way of helping third-world communities using strategic planning and technology that the two are making available free of charge to anyone interested in using it.
The bus trip? It's a publicity stunt of the best kind.
Dale Lari is also a Kickstarter campaign, but it's one that's already met its goal of $24,000 (the cost of the bus) and, when that came in, another $9,000 to pay for fuel and food for Cachorros.
So for the moment, its organizers have the money they need, though more money could help with the next project when it comes along. For now, though, the help they need most is people to collect equipment—or ride with them.
Larissa will be riding with them in spirit. "She's constantly with me, her memory, and the drive that she had," Estrada said. "Her death made me think how short life can be. And it put things in perspective, to take more chances, to go after things with Saul, that I might not have before."
Including "passion projects" like this one that don't make them money but do make them whole.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Larissa's Trip."