Woman, 43, wanted efforts to benefit support group
05:10 PM CST on Friday, November 9, 2007
By ROY APPLETON / The Dallas Morning News firstname.lastname@example.org
Exercise helped Dorothy Barnett-Griffin move beyond the death of her husband.
With her first Ironman triathlon, she wanted to raise money for a support group that had helped her three children deal with the loss of their father.
Now the pain has returned.
Five days after collapsing during her competitive swim in the Gulf of Mexico, the Collin County woman died Thursday in a Panama City, Fla., hospital. She was 43.
"It's bizarre. It's wrong," said friend Carla Blatney. "I go from being sad to mad."
While Ms. Barnett-Griffin's family privately mourned their stunning loss, Ms. Blatney and others this week spoke of a bright, caring, upbeat and inspirational woman – a former nurse with a remarkable passion for her husband, three children, exercise and the Journey of Hope Grief Support Center in Plano.
"You never saw Dorothy without a smile on her face," said Jody Gunsolus, a friend and occasional training partner.
And "you've never met two people more in love," she said of Ms. Barnett-Griffin and her husband, Mike Griffin, whom she met on a Christian singles ski trip in Utah.
After a car crash killed her first husband, Dr. John Barnett Jr., five years ago, she began bicycling to escape the sorrow and find inner strength.
"It was great therapy for me, and I found out that you can cry and ride at the same time," she wrote in a recent online posting for Journey of Hope, detailing her support for the center and her "Journey to Ironman."
Ms. Barnett-Griffin and her children – Kim, now 15; Derek, 11; and Zachary, 8 – turned to the group, finding comfort there by sharing their grief with others, she said.
She joined the center's board of directors and became an active fundraiser for the program that helps children and their families confront the death of loved ones.
"She was so generous with her time, financial support and passion," said Susan Tucker Williams, executive director. "Everyone's loss is terrible, but for us this is huge. We are grieving, too."
A resident of Lucas, Ms. Barnett-Griffin hoped to raise $10,000 for Journey of Hope through donations to her Ironman effort. It was to be her biggest physical challenge, the next step after advancing from bicycle rides to rallies to the swim-bike-run combo of triathlons.
She competed in her first triathlon last year and finished two half Ironman events this year before going for the full 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run with her husband Saturday in Florida.
"So ...we will do the hard part," she wrote in her Journey of Hope posting. "We will swim, bike and run all day and train very hard to be able to make it."
Gerald Jackson, a triathlete and coach for the Dallas-based group Fit2Train, said he met Ms. Barnett-Griffin at a workout camp this summer.
"It was going to be a difficult challenge for her," he said of the Florida race where a swimmer died last year. "But she was going to go out at her own pace and knock it out."
On the day of the race, her husband had advanced to the biking phase. Ms. Barnett-Griffin was one of two swimmers left in the water, talking occasionally with escorts in kayaks. And suddenly she "rolled onto her back, said 'help' and passed out," said Helen Manning, spokeswoman for North America Sports, owner and manager of the Ironman events.
Ms. Barnett-Griffin was briefly underwater before being rushed to shore, where her children and mother were waiting to cheer her on, Ms. Manning and others said. Water conditions for the race were ideal, she said.
Revival efforts failed, and Ms. Barnett-Griffin never regained consciousness despite two surgeries to ease swelling of her brain.
The cause of death is unknown. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Contributions to Journey of Hope in Ms. Barnett-Griffin's name have almost tripled since Wednesday and exceeded her $10,000 goal.
The woman who spent her life working, encouraging and leading others would have relished the news, her friends said.
"Dorothy was one tough cookie," Ms. Blatney said. "She's the type of person that you fight your demons. You step out there, out of your comfort zone."
Just as Ms. Barnett-Griffin did Saturday.
"One day of pushing your body beyond any limit that you thought possible," she wrote in her Journey of Hope posting. "Sounds crazy? Most of you would agree. So call us crazy!"
A friend of ours was watching her husband and this is what she witnessed!
This is what I witnessed, as I watched the end of the swim…unbelievable to have seen her three kids watching and waiting (I was six feet away from them and know it was her family because they had navy blue “team Barnett-griffin” t-shirts on)…to have watched a volunteer fly to the beach on a wave runner, let it go and jump off and run…to have seen the EMT’s pumping on someone’s chest as they drove down the beach on a four-wheeler…to have accidentally walked into the area where the ambulances were to try to get back to our condo and seen an Ironman volunteer walking the mom of the injured woman, holding her arm as she was being brought to the ambulance…to have seen them still working on the woman, in the ambulance with the door open…to have overheard the grandmother (?) later in the day, at another spot, saying they think she will make it…
It is just shocking…I am especially grateful to God for Taylor, Danni and Ron’s safety that day… I just can’t imagine those kids losing both parents in freak accidents.