Nick Schuyler tells Oprah rift with Marquis Cooper's family " the hardest thing for me right now."
Nick Schuyler has already faced criticism for writing a book about the boating accident which killed three of his friends in the Gulf of Mexico one year ago -- with the family of one deceased buddy, former NFL player Marquis Cooper, expressing pointed disapproval.
But Schuyler told talk show queen Oprah Winfrey he faced a tough choice when informed about efforts to develop the book which became Not Without Hope. "After this accident I was approached (and told) 'Here’s the deal. They’re going to do a book, with or without you,'" He told Winfrey in an interview broadcast on her show today.
"You can have the book told the right way, your story about your friends what you went through, or there’s going to be a book out there with whatever.' I wanted to do it for the right reasons, once again for the three guys and their families.” See the online version of Winfrey's talk with Schuyler here.
The book, written with New York Times sportswriter Jere Longman, was released Tuesday. Winfrey, whose endorsements on her popular daytime talk show can turn books into bestselling blockbusters, told her audience she stayed up until 1 a.m. reading Not Without Hope, calling it "the most harrowing story of survival I've ever heard."
Winfrey devoted her entire hourlong show to Schuyler's story today, tracing how he and three friends -- two of whom were players in the NFL -- left Clearwater for a boating trip on Feb. 28 2009 and wound up trapped on a capsized boat. By the time Schuyler was found by rescuers 43 hours later, his friends Cooper, Corey Smith and Will Bleakley had all died.
The details Schuyler revealed on Oprah would be familiar to those who have followed the story since the quartet's disappearance sparked a media frenzy one year ago. Schuyler, a former personal trainer who had once played football for the University of South Florida, described how the attempt to free a stuck anchor by gunning the boat engine capsized the vessel, plunging them all into the Gulf's frigid waters during a storm.
As the hours progressed, first Cooper then Smith succumbed to delirium induced by hypothermia; Bleakley died last, unable to survive the elements. Schuyler told Winfrey that his decision to put on a jacket before the boat capsized, because he had been ill with seasickness, likely allowed him to survive until a rescue party found him.
Winfrey's show even created a diagram to show how the men tried to cling to the boat after it turned over, depicting Cooper on the middle of the boat's back end, Schuyler toward the right rear, Bleakley on top of the motor and Smith in the water.
The host also asked a few pointed questions, wondering why they traveled 70 miles from shore in rough waters (Schuyler said Cooper felt the fishing was best there) and asking whether the men had been drinking (Schuyler said Smith didn't drink alcohol and the others weren't drunk). One question she didn't ask that I wondered: Why wasn't Schuyler's co-writer there?
Bu it was Schuyler's relationship with Cooper's family which provided much of the episode's sparks, as Winfrey read a statement from Cooper's wife Rebekah. “I have heard conflicting reports stemming from Mr. Schuyler of what happened on the day Marquis, Corey and Will died, but never once heard or been told of my husband’s last words, whether he spoke of Delaney and I. How is it that Mr. Schuyler has enough recollection and material to write a book yet has never once sat down with our family to tell us how Marquis died?”
Schuyler suggested he could never find the right time to tell Cooper's family how he died in ways he had done with family members of the other men -- despite the fact that he had friendly times with Cooper's family just after he was rescued.
As is her trademark, Winfrey tried to turn the controversy into a teaching moment for her audience, noting in some sensitive situations "you don’t know what to say, so you end up saying nothing and then that nothing ends up creating really bad feelings because somebody should have said something."
Later saying she sympathized with Rebekah Cooper's position, Winfrey asked Schuyler "after this show is over, will you attempt to reach out and talk to her?”
Schuyler said he has tried to reach out without providing details. He also tried to knock down other hurtful rumors about his friends, asserting that Cooper was an experienced boater and stressing that the men were not acting like themselves when delirium took hold.
But even Schuyler admitted the rift with Cooper's family is what bothers him most now, one year later.
"“It's been a year already (but) it feels like last month," he told Winfrey. "The hardest thing for me right now is probably that relationship (with the Coopers), to be honest with you...More than anything in this world, I would love to tell her this story and have always wanted to tell her this story.”