A runner and yoga teacher with a near constant smile, Rhiannon Hull's lifelong athleticism may have given her the strength she needed to keep her 6-year-old child's head above water just long enough to hand him to a surfer.
The 33-year-old Healdsburg woman died last week after being swept out to sea while swimming with her son at a beach in Costa Rica.
"She made such a huge impact in so little time," said Hull's husband, Norman Hull, 35, of Healdsburg.
Norman Hull and their 8-year-old son Gianni had mid-November plane tickets to join them in Costa Rica, where Rhiannon Hull was forming a Waldorf school.
On Friday, Hull and her son Julian were playing in waist-deep water at Playa Avellanas on the Pacific Coast during a low tide, her husband said.
He believes they may have stepped off an ocean ledge into deeper water.
A strong current swept Hull and her son about 100 yards from shore.
The beach was nearly empty except for two 16-year-old boys, he said. When the boys noticed Hull yelling and waving her arms, one of them paddled out on a surf board.
Hull was holding her son to keep his head above water when he reached them.
"The surfer grabbed her son and by the time he turned back around she was gone," said Scott Keneally, a close friend from Healdsburg. "She had exhausted all her energy waiting for help and saving her son."
By then, the other boy had called for help and a crowd had gathered on shore. The Costa Rican Coast Guard launched several boats within about an hour and helicopter teams scanned the water from the air, Hull's husband said.
However they didn't find her body until Sunday, about two miles off shore, said Norman Hull, who flew to Costa Rica on Saturday with their son Gianni.
Rhiannon Hull and their younger son had moved to the Central American country about five weeks ago where she started Escuela Sol y Pura Vida, a Waldorf kindergarten.
They planned to raise their children in Costa Rica but also maintain a residence in Healdsburg, Hull's husband said.
On Tuesday, about 100 people joined Hull's family for a candlelight vigil as the sun set at Playa Avellanas, a town about 10 kilometers south of Tamarindo.
"It's an honor to be taken by the sea there," Hull's husband said.
Playa Avellanas is a small community built around the beach's reputation for great surfing, according to tourism websites. Hull's school was focused on the ex-pat community there, her husband said. She and her son lived a short walk from the beach.
"She was so much fun, that's what I'm going to miss the most," said her husband.
Hull grew up in Eugene, Ore., where she graduated from South Eugene High School in 1996. She competed on her high school's track and field team and developed into a top cross-country runner at the University of Oregon, said Geoff Thurner, an athletic department spokesman.
She majored in Spanish language and business and had a brief professional running career with a sponsored team in Seville, Spain.
"She was in impeccable shape," said her husband. "She could run 15 miles and not be out of breath."