On Thursday, Christy was on the Potomac, having traveled up from Greenville, S.C., to participate in the annual Potomac River Festival and its Great Falls Race for expert kayakers. Her final Facebook post was a photo of her entry form for the race, which one longtime Potomac paddler said features the steepest kayak run in the world — a drop of 60 feet in 60 seconds.
Christy and another experienced kayaker hit the water about 3:45 p.m., with Christy going first and Will Seeber behind her. But something apparently happened when Christy went through the center lines of the Great Falls, and when Seeber spotted her again, she was swimming out of her boat in full paddling gear, according to a statement released by Active Nature, the sponsor of the event.
Seeber “attempted to come to her aid, but could not reach her in time before the fast-moving currents pulled Shannon into ‘Subway,’ ” one of the five “Fingers” flowing through the center of the falls and the most dangerous one. She became pinned underwater and drowned, authorities said. She became the third kayaker to drown in the area since 1998, according to Paul Schelp, a longtime kayaker and member of the Potomac Paddlers Volunteer Corps, which promotes safety on the river.
The Great Falls Race was canceled. Instead, the kayakers gathered at Overlook 3 in Great Falls Park on Saturday morning to remember her, then took to the river to spread flowers and spend some quiet time at the base of the Class V+ rapids, which are strictly for expert kayakers.
They mourned her death but had no second thoughts about the risks they take.
“For what we receive for playing on the waters and dancing with an element that is so much more powerful than us,” said veteran kayaker Pat Keller as he stood above the Potomac River on Saturday, “it’s worth going out again and again and again.”
Christy was a beloved member of the kayaking community.
“Every time she met people, in any circumstance, she was positive, happy and literally a ray of light,” said Jason Beakes of Poolesville, a longtime local kayaker and the founder of Active Nature. “Her personality, and what Shannon believed, represented us very well.”
Her family and friends said her deep faith in God gave her a particular confidence and focus in the moment.
“I really believe that her faith in her future, really diminished any fear that she had in any area of her life,” said her mother, Kim Christy. “She didn’t fear the future; she didn’t fear the river.”
Christy and her two brothers grew up first in Fort Myers, Fla., where their father built swimming pools, then along a river in central Florida and then to western North Carolina, where Christy worked as a river rafting guide, her mother said. “They grew up on the water,” her father, Lee Christy, said.