Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

Marie Gordon's many achievements masked a private pain

TAMPA — In February, Marie Gordon lay in Memorial Hospital in a deep coma. The overdose of pills that put her there mystified friends and family of Ms. Gordon, a woman with seemingly boundless talent and many accomplishments at a young age.

Everything about Ms. Gordon's past pointed to a bright future.

She had graduated cum laude from Duke University, earning two degrees in three years.

She had a top job with a technology consulting company and owned a bungalow in Palma Ceia. She snowboarded, scuba dived and posted poetry on a blog she had kept since age 13.

She was also bent on improving her already impressive times in amateur road races.

But three months after running a personal best — 3 hours, 29 minutes and 3 seconds in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. — she was on a respirator, having tried to end her life.

She emerged from the coma a few days later.

Two days later, she ran in Disney's Princess Half-Marathon, finishing in the top handful of runners in her age group, her family said.

But all was still not well.

On June 21, Ms. Gordon fatally shot herself. She was 25.

Though her death stunned Ms. Gordon's family, she had a history of mental health problems. Family members suspect a sexual assault in college made it worse.

Her parents, a CEO of an engineering firm and a lawyer, sent her to the best mental health professionals they could find.

No one fought back harder than Ms. Gordon, who often seemed like the model of a high-functioning young adult.

"She was simultaneously one of the toughest people you will ever meet, to do more and work harder and be more intense than hardly anybody I've ever met," said Jeffrey Gordon, her father and the CEO of Syniverse Technologies. "But at the same time, in spite of that toughness, she also had this softness."

She was strongly competitive. At age 9, she bet her mother $20 she could outrun her — then did so, running a mile in just over 7 minutes. At 12, she caught a 63-pound wahoo her on her first deep sea fishing trip.

Ms. Gordon seemed particularly happy while running.

"I think that was the one place she could control that was her own," said Dror Vaknin, the University of Tampa's cross-country coach and Ms. Gordon's trainer the past seven months. "That's what made it so important to her."

Vaknin, 44, described Ms. Gordon as a "very driven" runner who was just starting to tap into her ability.

"You couldn't read her very well because she seemed very shy, but mentally very tough," Vaknin said. "That's ultimately part of what her problem was, because she was tough on herself."

Regine Marie Gordon was born in 1987 in Boynton Beach. She had a full childhood, nurturing animals from parakeets to guinea pigs and earning a brown belt in karate. She edited her high school paper, was active in her Catholic church and learned fluent French, even as clouds of depression or anger settled in from time to time.

Counselors and therapists suggested different conditions over the years, including bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, but no one diagnosis was ever established, her family said.

Being the victim of a sexual assault her freshman year in college deepened that pain, her family said. Ms. Gordon lodged a complaint against another student, but no charges were filed.

"I think that her experience with that somewhat compromised her pride," said Scott Gordon, 27, her brother. "I think that her solace, in a way, was working as hard as she did and running as hard as she did."

That Christmas break, she was hospitalized under the Baker Act.

Nonetheless, she maintained a blazing academic pace, finishing simultaneous degrees in English and literature in three years. Her undergraduate dissertation — Illicit Genomes: Reworking Genetic and Cultural Mythologies in Popular Fiction — was one of 15 to be formally distinguished by professors.

After graduating in 2008, Ms. Gordon worked for Excelacom, an information technology consulting company. She moved up the ladder to head of marketing.

"She was fantastic," said Matt Michaels, Excelacom's chief financial officer. "When you asked her to do something, you'd expect it in a day or two. Thirty minutes later, you'd have an email with a draft of whatever you had asked her to do."

After her hospitalization in February, Ms. Gordon appeared to friends and family to have resumed her busy lifestyle. In April she participated in Ryan's Run, a 5K race honoring a murdered University of Tampa student, and came in second among women. In recent weeks, she had finished landscaping the yard and remodeling the kitchen of her home, which she shared with Hamlet, her German shepherd.

Late on June 21, her boyfriend discovered her dead at his Indian Rocks Beach condominium. The Medical Examiner's Office has ruled the death a suicide.

Her family wrestles to make sense of a brilliant path through life, suddenly ended. "Marie had treatment while a student and ongoing after college, including top-notch counseling," Regine Gordon, her mother, wrote to the Times in an email.

Ms. Gordon's family said Nancy Gordon, a Brandon licensed clinical social worker, was counseling her recently.

Nancy Gordon, who is not related to the family, said it is not uncommon for people who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder to have "anger, relationship problems, chronic feelings of emptiness, fears of abandonment and some identity-of-self issues."

"One of the hallmark characteristics of a person with that disorder is that those feelings are not always overtly displayed," she said.

Now Ms. Gordon's loved ones are trying to balance grief with gratitude.

"It is really painful to lose her," said Jeffrey Gordon, 51. "But I think the inspiration that she left behind ripples through all of our lives. It was a short life, but I think it was a profound one, one of deep accomplishment and deep meaning."

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