She gave her last ounce of strength to save her child and then slipped beneath the waves, a testament to super-human stamina and a mother's sacrifice.
Five months after drowning off a Costa Rican beach, the life of Rhiannon Hull of Healdsburg continues to inspire others. Hull, 33, was swept out to sea after a heroic struggle in which she held her 6-year-old son's head above water and handed him to a surfer who came to their rescue.
Her boy, Julian, was placed safely on the surfboard. But in a matter of seconds, before she could be reached, she vanished into the sea. Her body was found two days later.
"I'm still puzzling over how she was able to keep him afloat," her husband, Norman, said last week.
The mother and child, who had been playing in the water, may have struggled as long as a half-hour against a riptide that pulled them into deep water.
Looking back, Norman Hull said it's as if his wife, an accomplished distance runner, yoga instructor and spin cycle instructor, had been training for that day her entire life.
"She was focused on being in perfect physical condition all the time," he said.
At 5 feet, 2 inches and 100 pounds, she "had amazing upper body strength, first to paddle and then the ability to hold him out of the water and not give up," he said.
The story of Rhiannon Hull was the subject of an in-depth Sports Illustrated story last month that brought widespread attention to her life, and death.
Hull grew up in Eugene, Ore., where she competed on her high school's track and field team and developed into a top cross-country runner at the University of Oregon.
"She could have been a world-class marathoner," Hull said of his wife, who liked to run twice a day and favored the half-marathon distance.
"The woman wasn't tired after 13.1 miles," he said.
They met in Eugene at Joggers Bar and Grill through mutual friends and were married for about nine years.
They had been buying, fixing up and flipping houses in Bend, Ore., and had lived briefly in other cities before discovering Healdsburg and moving there in 2007.
Her death has resulted in the launching of the Rhiannon Joy Hull Foundation, <a href= "http://rjhf.org/">rjhf.org.</a>,to help pay for families to send their children to alternative schools and also benefit local track programs.
One aspect involves enlisting runners and cyclists to raise money in local events to "Run for Rhi" (pronounced "Ree"). The money will go to scholarships to help pay school tuitions, including at Summerfield Waldorf west of Santa Rosa, where Rhiannon's boys are enrolled. She also was finishing a four-year teacher training course there.
Proceeds also are likely to go to the Santa Rosa High school track team.
Norman Hull works part time for the foundation as well as at Capture Gallery, a fine arts gallery in Healdsburg.
LaMarion Spence, a Healdsburg entrepreneur who is helping launch the foundation, said people talk about the sacrifices made for children, but "none are as great as this one."
The foundation "is to make sure the legacy of Rhiannon goes on," he said.
Hull had gone to Costa Rica six weeks before her death to open a Waldorf School kindergarten in Playa Avellanas on Costa Rica's Pacific Ocean side.