VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — 24-year-old Ayana Paul was an accomplished athlete.

An operations specialist in the U.S. Navy, she had dreams of becoming an athletic trainer for a pro sports team.

However, her life was cut short Sept. 29 when her car was struck on Shore Drive and crashed into a tree. 10 On Your Side spoke with Paul’s parents over FaceTime as they waited on the tarmac at San Diego International Airport for her body to be returned home.

“It still doesn’t seem real,” said Laurence Paul, Ayana’s father.

On Sept. 29, Laurence and LaKenya Paul got a text message at 4:18 p.m. (1:18 p.m. PST). The pair were their daughter’s emergency contacts and the car crash she was in generated a text message from Apple.

They were notified of an accident and where it had happened. They say they Googled the address and found an article from 10 On Your Side with a press release from the Virginia Beach Police Department. They were hopeful after calling local hospitals who didn’t have Ayana’s information on record — until they received a call back from one saying that she didn’t survive.

A friend and fellow sailor identified her body.

Police say 23-year-old Ricardo Beckles was changing lanes, hit Paul’s car and another driver. Beckles was charged with voluntary manslaughter and reckless speeding.

Paul’s parents said she was in the process of finishing her time in the Navy — she was stationed on the USS Carter Hall out of Little Creek — so she could pursue a degree in recreation administration at North Carolina Central University. The San Diego native was a star athlete in her youth — still holding several records at her alma mater in volleyball, soccer and track.

Her father will never forget her spirit.

“She had the type of energy, every time she walked into a room, everybody knew she was there,” Laurence Paul said.

Her mother, LaKenya, looks at old photos and is drawn to her daughter’s smile.

“Her smile lit up the room,” LaKenya Paul said. “That’s what I keep looking, I keep looking at the pictures of her. I love her smile.”

The Pauls said the last two weeks have been a whirlwind, and now that their daughter’s body is back on the West Coast ahead of her funeral, it’s starting to sting. They miss her early morning phone calls.

“We still call her phone,” LaKenya Paul said.

Ayana didn’t have kids, but her parents said she was a mentor to children and was an active role model. The Pauls said Ayana was about to start an internship in Greensboro and was in the process of moving to North Carolina for school.

“She’s loved (and) she’ll be missed,” LaKenya Paul said. “We have a big hole in our heart.”