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David Aggio has been gone almost three months now, gone somewhere his daughter can't see him, can't hug him. But Kayla can still feel him, still feel him coursing through her consciousness, influencing her waking thoughts and she'll be darned if she's going to let that go.

So Kayla texts her dad, sometimes once a day, for weeks on end. Won't be anything sensational. Just a hello. Other times she'll call David up, leaving a message she knows won't be returned. Nothing specific to say. It just feels good, you know, to say hi. It's what kids do, the ones who have been made to feel safe and secure inside that parent bubble.

"Hi, Prid. It's daddy. I love you and good luck at your tourney this weekend. I'll be praying for you."

Kayla listens to a lot of David's voice messages that are on her cell phone but that one gets the most ear time. "Prid" was what he called her ever since Kayla can remember. "Prid" evolved from "Pretty." To hear his voice, it's like David is right next to her, walking with her, every step, which is how it was.

"He may have been the only person who never ever gave up on me," said Aggio, a 2012 Rancho Cotate graduate. "He loved me unconditionally. He taught me how to love, how to have faith."

David taught Kayla not everyone can climb over and above defeat. Anyone can quit. That's easy. But finding a way out of the tunnel, to find the light, well, one will need a spine for that. There will be some bruising along the way. The past seven months have bruised her.

"It's been the worst time of my life and it's been the best time," she said.

Kayla lost a woman she held dear to her heart, her great grandmother, last November. In December, partially from wrestling burnout, she nearly became academically ineligible at Oklahoma City University, having failed to pass a one-unit class; she made that unit up. Around that time, she and her boyfriend broke off their serious relationship. And then came March 8, when David was killed in a car accident in Bakersfield.

"I thought it was a joke when my brother first called me," she said.

A strong Christian, Kayla began experiencing a weakening of faith. Feeling burdened, she admitted she was in "a dark place."

Well, that pretty much takes care of "the worst time of my life." Here comes the "best" part.

Today, Aggio, 20, will fly from Oklahoma City to Madison, Wis., to compete Saturday in the U.S. World Team Trials. A two-time All-American, she will compete in the Junior World Championships Aug. 5-10 in Zagreb, Croatia. Those two trips are the result of Aggio's earning a place on the U.S. Junior World Team by winning the 145.5-pound title at the prestigious Body Bar FILA Junior Nationals on May 18 in Irving, Texas.

"Kayla destroyed everyone at Body Bar," said Archie Randall, the head wrestling coach at Oklahoma City University, the legendary national power. "No one came close to her. She was in command the entire time. Her work habits are phenomenal. Her weight is under control. Her GPA is a solid 2.98. I am so proud of her. The last year has been very tough on her. She has come such a long way."

Gone, the way Randall expressed it, is the "girl" inside Aggio. Now he sees a mature young woman, someone who has taken the slings and arrows life can inflict and come out of it clear-eyed and steady, a competitor as well as a person of the first rank.

"I can teach technique and strategy," Randall said, "but there comes a time in which the athlete has to turn the corner. Only the athlete has the power to make that decision. Kayla has turned the corner. As a freshman, kids spend the year just getting used to being in college. Sophomores begin to experience growth. Juniors turn it on. That's what is so pleasing. I didn't expect this kind of performance from Kayla until next year when she was a junior."

In Aggio's metamorphic climb from tragedy to triumph, this would be the perfect moment to claim that the memory of her dad was behind it all, pushing her past every dark cloud and thought. Aggio, initially, thought that's how it would happen. Instead, it was her renewed commitment to her faith that provided the impetus.

"My dad always told me, 'We all are on borrowed time,' " Aggio said. "When God chooses to take you, He will take you and take care of you. I found peace once I placed God first, then my dad second."

While Aggio has turned the corner with everything from her schooling, her weight, her approach to wrestling, she still faces what is most arguably her most difficult challenge -- to forgive Rodolfo Contreras.

Contreras, 22, crossed the center divide on a Bakersfield highway March 8, his white Honda hitting Aggio's blue Ford Explorer with such impact, Aggio died instantly. Kayla believes the trial date will be set for sometime in July.

Kayla's initial reaction to the accident was understandable.

"I knew I wanted to kill the person who did it," she said.

With time, Aggio has come to view Contreras with some compassion.

"One day I will be able to forgive the person who killed my dad," Aggio said. "I'm not there yet. I still want him punished for his actions. I would like to speak at the trial. That's something I need to do. But it's going to take a little more time for me to forgive him."

Kayla Aggio never thought at 20 she would be speaking of her father in the past tense (David was 54, fit and healthy). She never thought she would have to put into play something she told OCU two years ago.

Kayla filled out a university questionnaire that would appear on her freshman media profile. The query: Best Advice I Have Ever Received.

Her answer: "Don't take for granted what can be taken from you."

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.