It has been a month since the superwoman named Maria Noakes, left this planet. One month without her energy, her laugh, her smile, her love, and her witty jokes. This has taken me a long time to put together...
The one thing we all know is a definite about life, is death. As much as no one wants to talk about it, the two go hand in hand. When someone passes away late in their life, we are sad but we realize they have had good life, they have seen things, been on awesome experiences, married, had children, maybe even grandchildren. They got to retire and live out their golden years playing bridge and listening to orchestra music over their coffee in the morning.
In my sport of whitewater kayaking, people die at ages much too young. Some haven’t had the time to even become adults or have experiences that will shape their lives forever. Some of them never married and will never bear their own children. None of us get into this sport knowing our friends are going to die doing the exact same thing we love so much. We never get on the river in the morning and think; “I know when I get off of this river today, it will be one of the worst days of my life.” We put on every river, ready to experience so much joy and happiness we are almost exploding at the seams. We float downstream with smiles so big they span across all of our faces. We land in eddies laughing so hard our insides feel like they may split in two. Kayaking gives us so much fulfillment, family, and love. Then, in a single moment, it takes it all away.
I never thought I could hurt as much as I did after my best friend Shannon Christy died on the Potomac river on July 11, 2013. I had lost people I knew to the river prior to her, but this one hit home. I hurt, I didn’t want to kayak. I was angry, pissed the sport that we all love so much could really heartlessly rip people off of this planet. The only reason I got back into a kayak was because of the Freestyle Worlds, only 6 weeks after her death. I placed third, in a field of over 20 countries.
That hurt came back, five fold, while on my honeymoon in Thailand, when we received the news that Maria Noakes had died while paddling her backyard run of the Cheoah, with her youngest son, Teo on March 3, 2018.
I met Maria 14 years ago, in North Carolina. Her long time partner in crime, Whitney Lonsdale, was checking out my kayaking ability on the Ocoee, to see if I was good enough to go to the Zambezi with World Class Kayak Academy. I immediately was intrigued by this woman, she was super inviting, had an infectious love for kayaking, and had an energy that I had never seen before. Little did I know, she would change the way I looked at kayaking and forever have a piece of my heart.
It just to so happened, I became friends with her nephew, while in school, and started frequenting Maria’s house in Bryson City, NC with him. Maria and Nick were always inviting and so much fun to hang out with, despite having a two year old son and another one on the way. Our relationship grew to levels I have only reached with a few handfuls of people on this Earth.
Maria knew pretty much every drama I had been through from age 16 until present day. She told me when she thought/knew I was messing up, she would reel in my craziness with poise and elegance. I spent a whole summer in her tower, the summer Shannon died, training for Worlds. Maria was right there for every emotion I had in those following weeks and months. She was my sounding board for everything I was feeling. She was always the first call I made when heading to Bryson City. We shared weeks working First Descents together, teaching cancer survivors how to kayak. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine a World without her here to smile and encourage the whole community.
The kayaking community, strewn across almost all continents, is reeling from the death of such an amazing woman. I'm sure people are thinking, why would this happen to her, or how could it happen, or what is it worth; this kayaking thing. Maria was on her home river, with her kids, enjoying one of the first warmer days of the season. She had been down that run hundreds of times.
Nick Williams, Maria's husband of 25 years, put it in perfect words at her memorial, "Kayaking makes great people".
That is why we do it, for the love of it. #LivelikeMaria
In loving memory
of Maria Noakes