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Zachary high school student remembered for his big smile and dedication to a sport he loved

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BATON ROUGE - "He's the reason why we coach as coaches. He was a phenomenal human being," Jeannine Malbrough, head coach of Tiger Aquatics, said.

That's the way those who knew and loved 17-year-old award-winning swimmer Tristan Vessel are remembering him.

The Zachary High senior had been to practice once already Wednesday morning and was headed there again for an afternoon session when the unthinkable happened.

His car burst into flames on I-110 after it hit a guard rail and flipped over. Coach Malbrough, who trained him for the last six years, knew something was wrong when he didn't show up.

"He wasn't here. That's not like him. Normally I receive a text from him or his mother," Malbrough said.

Vessel joined Tiger Aquatics in 2015, practicing eight times a week as a butterfly swimmer. His coach says he wanted to inspire other Black kids to join the highly competitive sport.

"I could not ask for a better athlete as for his drive, his work ethic," Malbrough said.

His coach says the team will not be the same without him. "He truly made it a point to accomplish that and more," Malbrough said.  "He was a silent worker, you never knew, but he was always off to the side doing what he was asked to do, and more."

Nor will Zachary High. By late morning his classmates filled his parking spot with flowers and the promise they would never forget him. Those memories will include his smile and dedication to the sport he loved.

"I haven't comprehended it yet. As I said, he was special. He will be missed," Malbrough said.

Vessel was set to graduate from Zachary High in May. He had plans to attend the University of Texas in Austin in the fall and major in neuroscience on an academic scholarship.


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