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Debbie's Story

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Debbie's Story

Kayaking hasn't just save me through this Covid nightmare, it's literally saved my life. 

I met my best friend and soulmate in 1977 when I was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school and he was a 17-year-old senior. We married in 1980, had a son, Jesse & a daughter, Kimberly, and together we created our own Heaven on Earth.  We were together for 25 years with 22 of them being married. We still went out on dates and we kept our relationship alive!! 

Mark always had a passion for cars that started at a young age. His cars were the nicest and fastest in high school (yes that was one of the things that attracted me), so it was no surprise to me or his family that he began racing in the NASCAR weekly racing series.

This was a family event for us. When our son Jesse was home from college he was part of the pit crew and spotter while our daughter Kimberly and I would go early to record the qualifying times of the field of competitors. We were his # 1 fans.

On April 13, 2002 it was the second race of the season with a full field of cars. It was lap 5 when #36 lost control of his car and hit #70 and #22 in the straightaway, and put Mark into the wall doing 100 mph. The announcers announced that the #70 & #36 were ok. I thought I had seen way worse wrecks before, but the announcer wasn't saying anything about the #22.

The ambulance came and then the helicopter, so I knew he was hurt but I didn't know how bad it was. After the helicopter left, my daughter and I were running around asking which hospital they were taking him to. That was when we were told to come up to the office. They took me into another room alone and told me he was gone. He was never put in the ambulance or the helicopter. He died instantly. Blunt head trauma, just like Dale Earnhardt. The angle of the hit along with the speed could not save him. They told me they would let me on the track to see him before the morgue came to pick him up. 

Because it was a NASCAR event there was a lot of publicity and official business etc. Our son was 21 years old attending UCSB and our daughter was 16 and a sophomore in high school. We were lost

I used to climb the cemetery fence to sleep with Mark. My family was scared for me. I selfishly attempted to end my life and ended up in the crazy house for a night. When my kids came to see me, the look in their eyes were almost as bad as losing Mark. The look that said "What? We aren't enough for you now?" How could I be so selfish. I quit my job, got counseling and lived one day at a time. I knew I would never get over it, but I would get through it!

Eventually I needed to go back to work. I did what I had to do with no intention of really living. There was a truck in the parking lot that always had kayaks loaded up. I knew nothing about kayaking, so I asked my coworker Steve about it and one afternoon he invited me to join him in his two-man kayak.

Wow, what a rush!! The rapids, the trees, the beer (lol), and the peacefulness of the river was a whole new feeling for me. After 8 years thinking I couldn't laugh or have fun with another man I couldn't help but feel something for this coworker of mine. He was 10 years younger than me & divorced with no kids. He took me to many different places to experience this new "therapy" of mine. We fell in love with each other, but I told him I would never marry again. I would die Marks wife. Steve wasn't OK with it, but he excepted it.

I eventually got my own kayak and accessories, and kayaking became a routine for us. It kept me sane and it was my therapy. Not knowing if I was going to be able to live with this new happy feeling of mine, I decided to get a second kayak in case Steve and I didn't work out. We did work out, and eventually he bought me a third kayak, a pink camoflauge sit on top.

We were together for 10 years when he suddenly had a heart attack and fell and hit his head on the bathroom counter. I was with him when the paramedics announced that he was gone. "This can't really be happening to me I thought.  How am I going to get through this again?"

Well last summer a girl from his past emailed me to ask how I was doing and invited me kayaking with a group of ladies she went with every Sunday. They each had their own issues, but on Sundays, we were just a group of women on the river kayaking together with no judgment. We call ourselves the S4F crew (Sunday's for family, fun). We keep garbage bags on our kayaks and clean up the river as we paddle. We enjoy nature and talk about life. I often talk with with Mark & Steve and cherish the time we had together. I thought kayaking had saved my life, but with this group of ladies it truly has became my therapy. 

Thank you for letting me talk about this

Sincerely, Debbie





1 Response

Jennifer Gough
Jennifer Gough

October 29, 2020

Thank you for sharing your story. Kayaking truly is the only reason I’m still sane and alive!

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