Emiria Salzmann Dunn looked into her player’s eyes, but they weren’t looking back. Courtney Shoda’s eyes were wide open but unfocused. Blank. Staring straight ahead into the vastness of nothing. Emiria blew into her face. No blinking. No response. Emiria called her name. No response. A chill came upon her.
Emiria was struggling to assimilate what had happened. Less than two minutes before, no more than that, the coach of SSU’s women’s soccer team had watched as Courtney received a ball at her chest, let it drop and kicked it skillfully into the net. It was Sept. 1 and the team was in Arcata, at a tournament at Humboldt State. It was a Friday practice between games. The team had just done a jog and a little stretching. The moment was as nondescript, maybe even forgettable, as a light, casual workout can be.
“Keep playing like that,” Salzmann-Dunn told Courtney after the goal. Courtney ran past her coach. Emiria stood facing the net. The coach had no reason to look back. The ball Courtney took to her chest came to her softly as if it was lobbed from five feet. As benign as having her stop a pillow with her chest.
“Emiria! Emiria! Emiria! Look at Courtney!” The coach rotated sharply and saw something that will stay with her for the rest of her days. Courtney was face down. Her arms behind her. Her nose, her entire face even, was pressed into the turf, not above it. As if pushed. By the heavy hand of gravity.
“I didn’t know what I was seeing,” Emiria said. “When I blew into her face, it felt like I was blowing into the face of a statue.”
Mark Dunn was summoned. Mark is Emiria’s husband and the goalkeeper coach for SSU. He is also the captain of the Rincon Valley Fire District, a firefighter for 26 years. He estimates he’s performed CPR 200 times. He also estimates, rather quietly, that he’s had a successful result “maybe 20 times. No more than that.”
After Courtney was rolled onto her back, after Emiria failed in making her respond, after Emiria found a faint and sporadic pulse Mark and Emiria began CPR. Assistant coach Margi Osmundson called 911 on her cell and then ran to a nearby campus security phone to alert police and fire.
Courtney was gasping for a breath every five to six seconds. It’s called agonal breathing. It is, as described by one medical reference, someone “actively dying.” Mark never said that and neither did Emiria, but what she saw — the color in Courtney’s face and eyes were changing — were all the clues anyone needed.
“COME ON, COURTNEY, STAY WITH US!” she shouted. Over and over Emiria shouted that and for anyone who knows this coach knows she is passionate and emotional and direct as anyone. This was very personal for her and her husband. Mark had known Courtney for six years, had recruited her out of Torrance in Southern California. And Emiria makes no bones about being the mother hen. Her players are her children.
That’s why, in this column, after first reference, it’s Emiria and Mark and Courtney and Margi throughout. This story deserves such intimacy. This story deserves that respect.