GREAT FALLS, Va. - Dozens of kayakers, friends, and family members gathered at Great Falls Park in Virginia to mourn the loss of 23-year-old Shannon Christy.
Shannon, from South Carolina, was staying at Jason and Patricia Beakes' home to train for this weekend's Great Falls Race. "We were out in the middle of the river for the Fourth of July watching the fireworks. And she was like, 'This is how it should be,'" Patricia Beakes says. "She was an amazingly beautiful, wonderful energetic spirit. She was always smiling she embraced life so fully."
Shannon's kayak overturned during a practice run on Thursday and she was swept underwater. Professional kayakers - including Jason Beakes - attempted a rescue but it was too late.
Organizers called off the race. Instead, her friends and family fastened flowers to their life vests and paddled down the river in her memory.
"Shannon is still out there and she is still playful; she's still smiling down upon us," says friend Pat Keller.
Her fellow kayakers say she will be remembered for her fearless spirit and love for the rivers - and that her memory will push them forward.
"To stop kayaking would not do honor to the sport she loved and the life she loved. So we continue on. We keep running the falls. And we keep boating," Patricia Beakes says.
"There is danger, but what we receive from playing in the waters and dancing with an element that is so much more powerful than us, it's worth - to me - going out again and again and again," Keller says.
Dozens of volunteers searched for Christy's body throughout the day and into the evening Thursday after an emergency call came in that two kayakers possibly needed rescue just after 4:15 p.m.
Montgomery County Fire says rescuers recovered Christy's body using ropes. Police detectives say Christy disappeared while going down the falls and was pinned underneath the water for some time.
Will Seeber, another kayaker who was with Christy on the water, reportedly saw her swimming at one point - still wearing her paddling gear - before she was swept away toward a deadly section of the river, according to an account of what happened on the website of Active Nature, a D.C.-area paddle instruction company and an organizer of the Potomac River Festival.
Soon after, Christy's helmet and life vest were seen floating in the water.
"The cause of Shannon's swim is unknown," the account says.
Jason Beakes, who also was on the river Thursday, tells ABC 7 Christy's kayak ended up in a dangerous spot where swimming would be a last resort to try to get to safety.
Seeber was able to alert onlookers and authorities about Christy's disappearance. Crews eventually retrieved Christy's body from where she was last seen, the Active Nature account says.
"She must have been absolutely desperate to do anything she could to get out of her entrapment," race organizer Chuck Thornton tells ABC 7.
Christy's death comes on the heels of two other recent Potomac River drownings near Great Falls. Ngo Tekwe Forchick, 19, drowned after swimming at Purple Horse Beach.
Army Specialist Vincent Crapps, 21, drowned after diving off a cliff near Bear Island.
See more in the news reports below:
An earlier version of this story attributed a statement about Christy being in the river without her life vest to police. The statement was made by a Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service spokesman.
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