Katherine “Katie” Nissen of Omaha loved the water. The Millard North student with the high-wattage smile also loved to dance in her bare feet.
Nissen, 17, died shortly after being hospitalized for migraine headaches.
Her death sent waves of sorrow rippling through the high school, where Nissen was a key member of the swim and dive team.
Hundreds of students and others gathered Thursday for an impromptu prayer vigil after learning of her death.
Nissen would have been a senior this year.
When she entered a room, it was like a burst of sunshine “with her ear-to-ear grin and beautiful, naturally blond hair,” said Tara O'Shea, Nissen's swim coach. “It is only fitting that her favorite color is yellow, which is defined as being cheerful.”
The exact cause of death has not been disclosed. Family members did not wish to comment.
Nissen was raised in the Millard area by her parents, Pam and Tim Nissen. She was the youngest of four girls.
Nissen competed for Millard North for three years at the state meet in Lincoln; last year, she finished 16th in the 200-yard individual medley at the meet. She swam before school, after school and on the weekends.
She also was active in her Christ Community Church youth group, recently returning from a missionary trip to Belize in conjunction with Grace Reformed Church. She was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Nissen — called Poochie by her friends and known to break out into silly song and dance routines — was elected a prom princess last year.
“Katie Nissen is a wonderful human being from the inside out,” O'Shea said. “She had a way of making you feel like you were her best friend when you were with her.”
She would have been a favorite to be co-captain of the swim team this year, in part because of her natural leadership abilities, O'Shea said.
During the summer, Nissen swam for Greater Omaha Aquatics Leopardsharks. Tom Beck, swim coach at Omaha Creighton Prep and head coach at GOAL, said Nissen had a lot more going for her than athletic ability.
“She strived to be her best in the pool, and she did become one of the best swimmers in Nebraska,'' Beck said. “But where she made a real impact on our team, without a doubt and by far, was the beautiful person that she was.
“If the coaches ever needed a swimmer to help out a brand new swimmer to get acclimated and feel comfortable, Katie was the perfect person for that. She often did just that without being asked. She was just a very special person.”
Her funeral will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Christ Community Church, 404 S. 108th Ave.
Besides her parents, survivors include her sisters Joy Nissen, Averi Badeer and Allison Nissen, and grandparents James and Virginia Nissen and Harold and Lila Shaw.