Even as a young girl, Lingzi Lu charted an ambitious path, imagining a life filled with adventure and faraway places. Growing up in northeast China, she set her sights on studying in the United States, a goal she pursued with clear-eyed focus.
“She was a dreamer,” said her aunt, Helen Zhao. “She was very driven, and wanted to experience life.”
That yearning took Lu to Boston University, where she excelled in her studies and fell in love with her new home. When she was killed last April in the Boston Marathon bombings, the 23-year-old had just passed a major statistics exam and had applied for internships with an eye on a career in international business. Goals she had worked toward for years were within reach, and a bright future stretched out before her.
“Her life was ready to take off,” Zhao said. “She wanted to do something big.”
As the anniversary of the bombings nears, Lu’s family has created a foundation in her name, in hopes of helping other adventurous, ambitious students chase their dreams. The Lingzi Foundation will provide scholarships and support organizations that share her passions and ideals, the family said.
“Lingzi was a bright and confident young woman who yearned for life, loved beauty and pursued happiness,” Jun Lu, Lu’s father, said in a statement announcing the foundation. “We hope to carry on Lingzi’s positive spirit and encourage others to follow their passion and to pursue their own dreams.”
For Lu’s parents, who lost their only child, grief is never far.
“Even little things can bring it all back,” Zhao said. “It’s been very hard, very emotional.”
Lu’s parents, who live in Shenyang, China, are planning to attend next week’s memorial ceremonies for the victims of the bombings, Zhao said.
They hope the Lingzi Foundation can help keep their daughter’s memory alive, she said.
“They are very proud of her,” said Zhao, who lives in Cranston, R.I. “They really couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.”
Lu arrived in Boston in the fall of 2012 to pursue a master’s degree in statistics and mathematics, and studied tirelessly, her aunt recalled. She often visited Zhao in Rhode Island, where she savored traditional Chinese meals.
“It was good to cook for her,” Zhao recalled. “She appreciated it.”
Lu was an aspiring connoisseur who loved to bake and enjoyed all kinds of food, Zhao said. She had a weakness for pies, especially pumpkin and apple, and was fond of Mexican food.
“She loved chipotle,” Zhao said with a chuckle.
She would come to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Zhao said. It was a home away from home, and her parents rested easier knowing Lu was with family.
During the most recent holidays, Lu’s absence was deeply felt, Zhao said.
“It was hard,” she said. “Sometimes I’d just be driving in the car, and it would hit me.”
Zhao was Lu’s emergency contact, and police drove to her house the day after the Marathon to break the news that Lu had been killed in the bombings.
But even after Zhao identified her niece’s body, the terrible truth did not fully sink in.
“It didn’t register,” she said. “It was very hard to believe. It was like it was happening to someone else.”
Eight people are running the Boston Marathon to raise money for the Lingzi Foundation, including a veteran marathoner from China and Peter J. Kelly, an associate professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence.
Kelly did not know Lu, but his name came up when Zhao and her husband reached out to the culinary school, looking for potential runners who shared Lu’s love of cuisine.
Kelly, who has completed more than 60 marathons, certainly fit the bill, and after meeting with Lu’s family agreed to run in her memory.
Training through a harsh winter, Kelly has drawn motivation from Lu’s legacy.
“She always had aspirations to do big things,” Kelly said. “To get out there and be a world beater.”
Kelly, 55, did not run last year’s Marathon, but had run many in the past. When the bombs exploded, he received a flurry of calls from people wanting to make sure he was safe.
“I knew right then and there I had to run Boston next year,” he said. “It was just heartbreaking.”
But the race filled up, and as the months passed it looked unlikely he would be able to get a number.
Then, as if by fate, Lu’s family found him.
“I had my doubts it would work out,” he said. “I was sort of going on faith, and it came around.”
To learn more about Team Lingzi, visit lingzifoundation.org.