When tragedy struck, Chelsey Russell had just finished a relaxing summer vacation with family and friends and was looking forward to starting a new chapter in her life.
“We’d just had the most incredible week, our little family,” her mother, Trisha Hood, said Friday. “It is unfathomable how this happened.”
Russell, a 35-year-old associate at the Denver law firm Welborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley, had taken her two children, ages 2 and 5, to join her mother and brother, Cayman Hood, on a houseboat in Lake Powell in southern Utah.
Russell’s father, the prominent optometrist Don Hood, had died in 2013, and the family was trying to create powerful new memories together.
On Tuesday afternoon, they had almost made it back to dock at the Halls Crossing Marina when her toddler son fell overboard. Russell, a skilled athlete, dived in to save him.
Russell’s brother jumped into the dinghy and sped to help his sister, and when he got to her, the boy was on her chest and she was not responsive.
Lakewood mom, 35, dies saving her toddler from drowning in Lake Powell
CPR was administered on the emergency rescue boat that arrived and also on land at the marina, but she never recovered.
Her family said she died from a rare cardiac arrhythmia and that she had suffered from heart problems in childhood.
“She was a lovely lady who embraced who she was and the challenges she had, and she truly lived a life that recognized she needed to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Sheila Kemper Dietrich, former executive director at the American Heart Association of Denver, who said Russell had been an active volunteer for the organization, sharing her story and launching a dynamic group for young volunteers.
Quinn Washington, a childhood friend, said Russell died at the same age that her father had his first heart attack.
“She managed to overcome (the condition), checked in regularly with her doctor and had it under control,” he said.
She had become an athlete who loved running marathons, a passion she shared with her father. Often, she woke up early to run and watch the sunrise.
She finished the 100-mile Leadville Trail 100 run in 2015 through the rugged Rocky Mountains and had twice run the Boston Marathon.
“She was extremely disciplined and tenacious,” said Amy Seneshen, a partner at Welborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley. “She was tremendously driven and had an incredible way with people, where she could walk into a room and leave 30 minutes later, knowing every single thing about a person’s life. I’ve never met anyone like her.”
At the firm, Russell specialized in the areas of mineral titles and oil and gas. She had developed skills in that area when she worked as a landman at Antero Resources Corporation after graduating with a bachelor of science degree in business administration from the University of Denver.
By the time she finished law school, she had married and started a family.
“She had a baby, and two days later took the bar exam,” Seneshen said.
Just before the vacation at Lake Powell, however, Russell was anticipating a new chapter in her life.
Recently divorced, she had purchased “her dream home,” her mother said. “She was the most incredibly beautiful soul and spirit. I was so blessed to have her for 35 years.”
For those close to the family, the tragedy has been a shock.
“She was unbelievably close to her mother and her brother,” Washington said. “She was devastated when her father died, and she became the glue that kept the family together. It’s been one hit after another.”
Chelsey Russell, mother who drowned saving her child, overcame heart problems to become skilled athlete
Russell was a 35-year-old associate at the Denver law firm Welborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley
By Colleen O'Connor | firstname.lastname@example.org
PUBLISHED: August 26, 2016 at 5:02 pm | UPDATED: August 30, 2016 at 7:06 am