Nick Scandone won a gold medal in Paralympic sailing in Beijing. He died… (Rich Roberts )
The venue for information gathering for today's column was lunch. Your typist was a fly on the wall.
Mary Kate Scandone met Dottie Rountree. That's not exactly Kobe Bryant chatting with Matt Kemp. Actually, as it turned out, it was much better.
Scandone has written a book, released Wednesday, called "Nick of Time." There may have never been a more apt title.
Her husband, Nick Scandone, won a gold medal in Paralympic sailing in Beijing. That was September 2008. He died of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, Jan. 2, 2009. By the time Nick Scandone got to the competition and they lifted him into his boat for races, where he could use hand controls, he was unable to move most of his body and struggled to breathe.
He was such a great sailor that when he and crew member Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, a paraplegic, sailed their victory lap on the last day alongside a huge viewing wall in China, they had won by such a wide margin that they hadn't even needed to race that day. Everybody on that wall, including Mary Kate Scandone, knew that Nick Scandone would never again be on the water. It was, as it should have been, sailing's wailing wall.
Nick Scandone went home to Fountain Valley to die. He heeded his wife's demand to make it through the holidays, then was gone at age 42.
"This is a love story," Mary Kate Scandone said.
She also said it is her attempt at closure, at moving on.
Dottie Rountree is trying to do the same, but the loss of her husband, John, to ALS was only 11 months ago. When Scandone heard that she said, "Oh, you're new," and they both understood.
John Rountree was not an Olympic hero, just an ordinary-life one. He raised a family, ran some businesses, did a ton of charity work and doted on his grandchildren. Oh, yes. And while a lot of us were home in the late 1960s, he was serving in Vietnam.
Scandone was at lunch to talk about her book. Rountree was there because there are so few people who can relate to an ALS ordeal.
Scandone said the prospect of competing in the Paralympics kept her husband going for longer than many ALS patients. He was diagnosed in 2003.
"When he won the Olympic trials," she said, "I knew I had him for another year.
"In the end, I wrote a book about someone who had pursued his dream. And it was my dream to write his book."
Neither Scandone nor Rountree knew exactly what ALS was when it was dropped into their lives. Friday, they shared stories of wheelchairs, shower seats, drop feet and Hoyer lifts, as well as the early signs of the disease — golf tee shots that weren't traveling as far. They laughed at how both husbands quickly concluded their wheelchairs were Porsches and drove them accordingly.
Scandone said she got great help from the ALS Society. Rountree said hers was from veterans organizations.
Scandone had the memorial service at the Balboa Yacht Club and has given Nick's gold medal to the club, where it is now displayed. Rountree had the memorial service at a church that was bursting at the seams with perhaps 600 attendees. Her display is a flag in a shadow box that hangs in his office at home. The flag was flown at West Point and over the U.S. Capitol, before being presented to her by his West Point classmates.
Scandone said her husband has left her with causes to pursue. For one, she'd like more accessibility to sailing for people with disabilities.
"There's a freedom he always felt just being on the water, especially at the end," she said.
She also said she'd like to have a series of houses near regatta sites that would be equipped for people with disabilities. "We'd call them Nick's Houses," she said.
Nick and Mary Kate Scandone had been married only two years when he was diagnosed. She said she fell in love when he took her sailing.
"He was cool, calm and collected, and so kind," she said. "That was it. Cupid shot his arrow."
They talked books. John Rountree wrote his memoirs and self-published them just before he died. Scandone has done the same, but is marketing it more aggressively. It can be found at thenickscandonestory.com.
Scandone said that, ultimately, she just wanted to share this man and his incredible story with the world.
"I remember telling one of my friends right after I met him," she said, "that this is a man I'd marry, even if he was in a wheelchair."