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Along a winding path at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, just north of the Safari Café near the flamingos and the bronze bears, sits a crocodile.

He is new. The concrete slab on which his 16-foot, 1,100-pound self sits is still drying. A metal fence surrounds him, protecting him from the young visitors who will soon be able to crawl onto his long muzzle or tiptoe up the scales on his wide back.

Look closely, for this statue has a story to tell, and the crux of the tale is carved carefully into the concrete around the curve of his tail.

I Can I Will.

Those are Andrea Kabourek’s words, or at least the ones the Lincoln East High School teacher adopted as her mantra as she lived her life in spite of the cancer first diagnosed eight years ago.

She had loved to travel long before the cancer, just like she loved teaching and running — and the disease didn’t stop her.

She made a bucket list and got to work.

She was open and honest with her students. She made her journey another lesson in life for them. And the cross country runners she and her husband coached at East took her mantra and ran with it etched on their arms and emblazoned on their shirts.

The crocodile became hers too, four years later when the cancer she’d beat back twice returned.

Years earlier — on one of three trips to Australia — an aboriginal woman told Kabourek that her totem was a crocodile, a symbol for people who can turn any negative experience into a positive one.

And so she embraced it, and stuffed crocodiles filled her classroom. She handed out small, plastic crocodiles with “I Can I Will” written on their bellies to teachers and friends, to patients and nurses at the cancer center.

Before she died three years ago, she left a few very specific instructions for her parents, Ken and Estelle Baker, and her husband, Brian Kabourek.

She wanted her ashes to travel with her friends and her family, to be sprinkled across the vast world she’d loved to explore.

“She wanted it to be places that were cool,” said her mom. “It would have to be worthy.”

And so her husband climbed the treacherous trail cut into the 1,488-foot rock formation in Utah’s Zion National Park known as Angel’s Landing and sprinkled some of Andrea’s ashes at the top.

Her parents have traveled the globe and left Andrea’s ashes in rain forests and near waterfalls, in countries she’d seen and those she had yet to see.

Friends sprinkled her ashes near the church in Hawaii where she and Brian were married and on a beautiful overlook on the road to Hana. They left their friend’s ashes along a running trail in Canada, on the Olympic track in Spain, along a beach in Madagascar and on Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, South Africa.

To date, her ashes have touched eight states and 17 countries.

“Everyone we’ve asked to do it has taken it very seriously. They look for the perfect place to leave the ashes," said her mom. "I think people have put a lot of thought and care and love into it.”

Andrea's still traveling the world with friends who carry her “I Can I Will” inspiration with them to the top of mountains in Greece, the cliffs of Israel and the beaches of Thailand.

She’s been there when they’ve run marathons with "I Can I Will" written on their hands and their running gear, pushing them forward.

Every season, the Spartan cross country team wears pink uniforms with her initials in her honor to two meets. Each year a student gets a scholarship in her name.

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And now her spirit is also part of the zoo, because she had another request of her family: use part of the memorials to support the place she'd loved since she was a kid.

And so zoo director John Chapo suggested a statue, and called Thom Hunt, an artist who owns Ratt Studios in Fairbury who is creating other sculptures for the zoo, including a red panda, giraffe and tiger.

The Bakers and Kabourek loved the idea, and named Hunt's crocodile Crikey — an Australian expression Andrea loved.

“When she’d come back from Australia she drove us crazy saying ‘crikey,'” her mom said.

Now Crikey is there for the kids.

“This is a kid-centered area,” Chapo said. “That’s the whole goal. For kids to meet Crikey up close and personal. ... Just wait for the youthful imagination to take flight.”

Tuesday, Kabourek's parents and husband watched as Hunt carved the words “I Can I Will” into the concrete slab.

They circled the new statue and snapped pictures, patted his nose and deemed him perfect.

And they are quite sure Andrea would approve. Kabourek can just hear his wife. 

“She’d say ‘crikey!’”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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