(Photo: Courtesy Karissa Akin)
The Daily Rally

Karissa Akin Listens to the People We’ve Lost

After her brother died, the clothing designer thought outdoor sports would relieve her grief. But it took her own near-miss accident to wake her up to what she needed to hear.


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Karissa Akin shared her story with producer Cat Jaffee for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It was edited for length and clarity.

I was going to land in the river, and I was going to hit the bottom. So I pulled my feet up in close to me and had this realization that this is how I die. It was very simple. This is how I die. And it was kind of like, oh. OK.

My name is Karissa Akin, and I have lots of nicknames, but one is the Karizzly Bear. Because I give really good hugs, like a grizzly bear.

In 2009, I lost my brother Michael. My brother was 18 months younger than me, and we were always scheming about what we were going to do, whether it be in business or in advocacy. My brother was at CU Boulder. He was in his fifth year, and he was incredibly involved in computer engineering and in school life. With that, I feel like he had a lot of stress, because he was just trying to do all the things.

So, he had taken an opioid with with alcohol, and it stopped his heart

I was working for a large corporation at the time. I lived far away from my family. I immediately moved home, and I started skiing with my dad. That’s how he and I got through a lot of our grief. And that journey of skiing and getting outside took me to all different places around the country.

I found myself up by the Louis River, which is near Mount St. Helens. My friend was like, okay, let’s go for a mountain bike ride to just check out the area. We had been running on the trail for most of the day, so I was familiar with the trail, and it didn’t seem to be anything too difficult.

So we set out on our mountain bikes, and we were climbing up the the the singletrack trail.

I hit a wet root, and I started falling. I remember seeing my feet below me and just sliding down the hill. I remember feeling like there was no way I could stop. I could see the river below me, and there was a moment where all of a sudden I knew that I was just in the air.

I took all the impact on the righthand side of my body. I heard the cracks; I heard my body breaking. And I was pulled into the river.

There was a cliff wall that I pulled myself up onto, and I just held on and started screaming as loud as I could. And in that moment, my brother came to me. I knew it was him because it was his voice and his presence.

He just said, Karissa, stop screaming. Nobody can hear you. And I was like, OK, well, what am I supposed to do? I’m going to die! And he said, no, you’re not. You can’t. You have to make it out of this river for our parents and for our sister. And you know the guy that you’ve been dating for three and a half years long-distance? It’s time. It’s time to move, and it’s time to start the next chapter. You can keep grieving me, but it’s time to move forward.

At that time he said, OK. Karissa, scream now. And I screamed with all my might.

My friend had come back down the trail, and he heard me scream. He looked right over the cliff wall, and I was directly below him. He came all the way down this really steep embankment, and he had to put me on my stomach and fireman carry me to back to the trail.

There were a lot of people involved to help me get out of there safely. I was on the trauma floor for six days. My now husband—who was my boyfriend at the time—came and stayed with me for the six days while I was on the trauma floor in Vancouver.

As soon as I was able to start walking again, I moved out of my parents house and moved to Jackson. We got married, and we have two kids.

Moving Forward through Grief

I think everyone’s road through grief is different and the same.

I was just stuck in this incredible grief and was unsure of how to move forward. I was pretty angry. I was like, he was 22. What the heck? And he’s just gone.

I was trying all these different things. I was doing some of the things that I really loved, like getting outside and doing extreme sports. I did hundred days of skiing or whatever it was. I was worshiping something that is wonderful and a great thing, but I feel like I was so closed off from any sort of spiritual sense. I don’t think I could have gotten a bigger wake-up call that they’re still here with us. They’re all around us, and they’re guiding us. And, deep down, you know the right path for you, and they’re helping you see that path as well. So just listen.

Karissa Akin lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and is the co-owner of a Merino wool clothing company called Iksplor. She created the brand with her mother and sister, and they started the business in 2018 on her brother Michael’s birthday. 

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Lead Photo: Courtesy Karissa Akin