Lauren Jones was a caring and loving person who embraced life and enjoyed being a student-athlete at the University of Oregon.

To those who knew her, Jones’ passing came as a shock and has left a hole in their lives.

Jones, a freshman on the Oregon acrobatic and tumbling team, died suddenly Tuesday, and her death has been linked by public health officials to an outbreak of a contagious bacterial infection on campus.

“Lauren was just simply a great person,” said junior Sydnee Walton, a friend and teammate of Jones. “She was so strong in her faith, and every day, she just lived life to the fullest.”

Since January, three other Oregon students have been hospitalized because of the outbreak, and the university has announced that it will offer vaccinations to all students to protect against meningococcemia.

“I know that campus is doing everything they can to take care of people and precautionary things,” Oregon acrobatic and tumbling coach Chelsea Shaw said. “Our whole team has already been treated. Our team has done everything that we can on our end. But I know that campus is doing everything that they can as well to protect other students.”

Shaw said the university has been helpful in helping her team through the tragic situation.

“I think that the university has done a great job of providing not only vaccinations and resources, but also counseling and therapists, and grieving meetings for people to attend,” Shaw said. “And candle-light services, everything for the normal population, but also for our team to participate in.”

Shaw described the sequence of events leading to Jones’ death.

“She was at practice (Monday), just like a normal day. Nothing was wrong that we saw. Nothing was wrong that she would ever say,” Shaw said. “I know in the middle of the night, she started feeling sick. She was taken to the emergency room to seek medical care. She was sent back to her dorm for the day to rest.”

At about noon on Tuesday, Shaw said that she was called out of a meeting and told that something was wrong with Jones.

“All we heard was that she was in cardiac arrest and was being taken to the hospital,” Shaw said. “So me and my assistant coach, we rushed over to the hospital. We waited in the waiting room for someone to give us information. And the chaplain and the ER doctor came in and said, ‘we tried everything, but she died.'”

Walton and Jones both grew up in Georgia and knew each other for years, long before becoming teammates at Oregon.

“I have known Lauren ever since she was 7 years old,” Walton said. “Coming into Oregon, I was able to show her what this sport was about, and just really open up an avenue and show her all the opportunities that were here for her.

“She wanted to be here full-heartedly, and she made her dream come true.”

The Oregon acrobatics and tumbling team has its home opener at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Matthew Knight Arena against Concordia of Wisconsin.

“It definitely drives us to be better because we knew that Lauren would want us to go out there and compete to the best of our abilities,” said Walton, who plans to wear Jones’ No. 51 during Saturday’s competition. “So it definitely gives us lots of motivation considering this would have been her first meet coming up tomorrow. So we just want to make sure that we honor her and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it’s a great one.”

The Ducks also will wear an “L J” patch to pay tribute to Jones.

When cleaning out Jones’ dorm room, they found a sign that she made for Saturday’s meet, in support of Walton that she was going to have some fans hold up.

“The fact that she would even think of somebody else and plan that far in advance to set something up nice for someone just kind of reaffirmed what kind of person she was,” Shaw said.

Walton said Jones was excited and looking forward to Saturday’s competition.

“Lauren was so excited to have that sign made for me. She didn’t want to tell me what it was, but she would just come up to me and go, ‘I’m so excited for the meet, and I can’t wait until you see, but I have something really big planned,'” Walton said. “She was just so sweet about doing little stuff like that and just going above and beyond for the people that she really loved.”

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