Mother and daughter honor father's memory

As a young couple, crazy in love and raising a beautiful little girl, Brett and Kathy Austin were living a life full of family, waves and friends in a tight-knit Beaches community. The fairytale took a tragic turn when Brett was diagnosed at 21 with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He lost his battle on Aug. 12, 2005, just 11 days before his 31st birthday.
It wasn’t easy going from two loving parents to one left behind to pick up the pieces. Kathy Austin put on a brave face for their daughter, Piper, just 8 when she lost her dad. Brett’s brave fight reinforced her bond with her daughter and strengthened her resolve to live boldly without regret, a lesson she’s instilled in her only child.
Despite her own heartache, Kathy made sure her daughter never felt like she was missing out.
“When her dad died from cancer, it was truly devastating. They were extremely close and he was a wonderful dad. My family helped out and our wonderful surf friends were always looking out for Piper’s best interest,” Kathy Austin said. “After he died, she threw herself into surfing. I think it was her way to stay connected with him and stay busy doing something – not being sad.”
Surfing offered an escape but it also created a strong connection between the mother and daughter. When Piper was in middle school, she wanted to surf every day before school.
“I would hear a little knock on my bedroom door so early, and even though I really wanted a few more minutes of shut-eye, how could I not get up and take her to do something she loved? I felt like it was my duty to help her pursue something she held so dearly,” recalled Kathy. “Seeing a child that dedicated and passionate about something after such a tremendous loss was inspiring. She helped me get through it as much as I helped her.”
Work hard, play hard; it’s the mantra both mother and daughter live by every day. Whether surfing, camping, going to concerts or getting lost on road trips, nothing is taken for granted; not a moment is wasted. It’s that spirit of perseverance that helped Piper Austin win a full-ride through academic scholarships to the University of North Florida. Her commitment to surfing and training also earned three East Coast surfing titles.
“Even when she got put out in a contest, she held her head high and saw the bright side of it. She’s an optimist. She never gives up. When she sets her mind to something, she sticks with it until she has achieved it. I’m proud of how loyal she is. I’m proud of her giant heart,” Kathy said of her daughter.
“I hope I’ve taught her to accept herself. The power of unconditional love. How to say 'No.' How to stand up for what she believes in. Not to be afraid to speak out for what you believe in. The importance of family. Not to be afraid to be yourself. And I’m grateful for what she’s taught me; how to love with my entire heart; how to work for what you want; the power of perseverance. Piper is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. To watch her paddle into giant scary hurricane waves sometimes takes my breath away – but it also blows my mind how brave she is.”
Piper Austin is equally proud of her mom’s outgoing personality, unstoppable energy and strong work ethic. Kathy Austin is a healthcare representative at Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, where she’s served for 15 years as a liaison between patients and the healthcare community.
“She’ll do so much in one day it’s crazy. She’ll have gone to the gym, surfed and be going to yoga when I have just made breakfast Saturday mid-morning,” she laughed.
“I’ve learned how to have fun from my mom and how to thoroughly enjoy life. I’ve learned how to work hard for a good life. She was able to provide for me even as a single parent. I was never even close to going without. She supported me so much, by taking me surfing every day, helping me figure out school stuff and always making awesome meals. I look back and I always had everything I needed. She did an outstanding job by herself. It must have been hard but she never made it seem like it was.”
Both mother and daughter love the outdoors and spend as much time as they can traveling, riding bikes, playing frisbee golf and spending time with family. There is always lots of laughter and lots of love. But the most special times are centered around the water.
“It’s the car ride there. It’s suiting up in the parking lot in the winter. It’s watching the sunset during an after-work surf session. It’s watching the sunrise together,” said Kathy. “It’s a time to be together doing something we both love tremendously.
“It’s always fun to run into surf friends in the line-up, but sometimes when it’s just us and we see a dolphin come by, we feel like it’s Brett’s way of saying, ‘What’s up? I’m still around.'”