David Nutter is a friend. A wildman and excellent athlete. He is an all-out devotee to the James River and among many things, he is an avid white-water kayaker.
When I first met him in Spring 2008, he and I were talking during a kickball game. It didn’t take long for us to figure that we shared love of kayaking and I quickly discovered he obviously had much more experience than me.
I had only been kayaking for a measure of months at that time. I was explaining how much of a novice I was and that since I had a wife and kids, safety and caution was higher on my list than fun and excitement.
As we talked, I described to Nutter a horrifying story I had been making myself recall everytime I paddled. It’s of a father and son kayak trip down the James where a father drowned in the Pipeline Rapids in downtown Richmond after rolling and becoming trapped upside down underwater. The son was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch story that next day:
“I was blessed that day to be doing what I loved to do with my dad,” his son wrote. “I was blessed to be there for him to try to save his beautiful life, but I am cursed because I cannot stop seeing it happen over and over in my head.”
I was working at the newspaper at that time, and on the desk the night that story broke. It was quite moving to me at that time — I cried, thinking of my own young kids and what would happen if it were me in the father’s place. Despite efforts to be safe and wear a helmet and lifejacket, the father still didn’t survive.
I made myself pledge to remember the son’s words and to this day still think of them when I hit the river — or any other slightly risky activity for that matter.
But as I was describing this life lesson of mine to Dave at the kickball game, he matter of factly stated: “Yeah, that was me. That’s my Dad.”
I’m rarely completely speechless, and Dave gave me a couple of minutes to straighten myself out. I’m sure I turned white. I was dumbfounded. I had no idea that I was describing Dave’s own story to him.
He had come to grips with the loss of his father, Jerry A. Nutter, that day on December 29, 2007, and was able to deal with it head on (read Dave’s version here). That’s Dave — he is hard core, not shy and not one to hide or quit in the face of adversity. He mourns his father in his own way and honors him by staying in the James doing what they both loved to do, together.
I will be at Pipeline this Saturday at noon to gather with Dave and many of his family, friends and fellow James River lovers to honor Jerry A. Nutter by spending a few hours cleaning trash and making the James better place for all of us to visit and explore.