On March 20, Ryan Paddock had been sitting in his car waiting for his wife Trisha to finish the last mile of the Los Angeles Marathon when he got a phone call.
“Either the CEO or somebody from the L.A. Marathon called to let me know that I needed to go to the nearest emergency room,” Ryan, 44, told Los Angeles during a recent phone interview.
Trisha, 46, was a veteran participant of full and half marathons, as well as a former Miss Asian America, with no medical problems as far as she and Ryan knew. They had been planning to drive an hour to West Hills after the race to catch their 14-year-old son RJ’s baseball game with the California Commodores.
“I don’t recall them telling me which hospital,” Ryan said. “I don’t think this happens very often. I’m not sure whether they really had enough medical staff on hand, or was there a helicopter or an ambulance, or what is required.”
Ryan had to Google the nearest E.R. which turned out to be Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Pulling into the parking lot, he got another phone call, this time from a Cedars-Sinai administrator.
“Are you coming to the hospital?” he recalls them asking. “Are you Mr. Paddock? Are you the emergency contact for Trisha?”
The person on the other end told Ryan he would need to ask for a social worker once he got inside the building.
“At that point,” Ryan said, “I knew something significant must have happened because you don’t just go to the emergency room and get asked to speak with a social worker.”
He was later informed that Trisha’s heart had stopped after she crossed the finish line of the 13.1-mile run, and that doctors were trying to resuscitate her.
Hours passed as Ryan waited to be allowed to see his wife of nearly 22 years. In the meantime, he tried desperately to get in touch with their three children. Aside from RJ, there was their 20-year-old daughter, Hannah, who was studying in Rome, and, Eden, 18, who was at work and couldn’t answer her phone.
Ryan eventually contacted Eden through one of her friend’s parents and reached RJ through the Commodores’ manager, who pulled him from the game and drove him to Cedars-Sinai.
“Here I am dealing with my wife and I’ve got to track down my kids,” Ryan said. “Not to mention, my oldest, who is studying abroad on an academic scholarship, trying to get in touch with her in the middle of the night. So that was really challenging.”
Trisha never regained consciousness. She was pronounced dead at 9:42 p.m.
Her sudden death was a surprise to everyone close to her. She had participated in the long-distance Ragnar Relay twice and had taken part in at least three other half and full marathons before the L.A. Marathon.
The Torrance native, who spent most of her childhood in Redondo Beach, was the person in their family of five who encouraged everyone to practice healthy habits. It was Trisha’s weekend ritual to walk at least six to ten miles every Saturday. As a young adult, she had played competitive volleyball. Trisha, who was Polynesian, had also participated in several beauty pageants and was crowned Miss Asian America in 1993. She also received an athletic scholarship to American University, but later dropped out to go on a missionary trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where she met Ryan in 1997.
“She was on my case about being in better shape and health conditions,” Ryan told Los Angeles. “It’s interesting. I almost feel like she was so endurance-driven that eventually that battery just runs out. Like she could go-go-go-go-go and it’d be no problem.”
Trisha’s death also stunned marathon organizers because it was the first related to the L.A. Marathon since 2007, when a 50-year-old man who had participated in the L.A. Bike Tour in conjunction with the race died after going into cardiac arrest, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
“This is a devastating loss, and our deepest sympathies go out to her family and loved ones,” organizers said in a statement on March 22. “We would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to all the first responders, paramedics, and medical personnel who were immediately on the scene.”
Trisha had been walking in the Charity Challenge Half Marathon to raise funds for the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, which provides Asian Pacific Islanders and other under-served communities with substance abuse services throughout the county.
AADAP’s Development Director, Paulina Hong, said that Trisha was one of the first people to sign up for this year’s charity race.
“She was always sweet, patient, compassionate, and energetic,” Hong said. “A really great personality. Someone that everyone loved to love.” Hong added that each of the marathon participants on their team finished at different times, so none of them crossed the finish line with Trisha.
Those who knew Trisha say she lived by the same values that brought her to the final race of her life—serving her community and championing students.
She was president of the PTA at her children’s school, Palos Verdes High School, and was the chairperson for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) board of the Palos Verdes Peninsula School District. Melody Lomboy-Lowe, who worked closely with Trisha on the board and the PTA council, said Trisha was considered a “cool mom” who students felt comfortable talking to. She was also passionate about the board’s Legacy Project, an online service similar to Ancestry where students can learn about their history.
“I have never met a leader like Trisha,” Lomboy-Lowe said. “She was calm, kind, and passionate. DEI could be controversial and she was always willing to listen to all concerns. She led with grace. She had the ability to make every person feel heard and important.”
Lomboy-Lowe added, “Most of all I considered her a friend and I strive to be like her.”
Trisha, who worked as a personal assistant at an insurance brokerage company, was also an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, volunteering in various organizations for the church and managing to maintain a healthy relationship with her children.
Ryan says Trisha was their kids’ “mom-friend.”
“She was a better mother and a better wife than I could be a father or husband, and I’m really worried about how I’m going to meet those expectations,” he said. “However, I do take comfort in knowing this: My kids are taught well and God would never have taken her if he didn’t think we could handle it.”
As she was approaching the final mile of the marathon, Trisha sent what would be her last text message to Ryan. She asked him how his sick mother, who was on life support at the time, was doing.
“[That] gives some context to where her heart and her mind was,” Ryan said. “That’s how I’m going to remember my wife.”
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