Soon-to-Be First Time Olympian JJ Rice Dies at 18 After Tragic Accident

Reuters/Eric Gaillard
Reuters/Eric Gaillard

Just weeks before he was set to represent Tonga in the Paris 2024 Summer Games, loved ones of 18-year-old JJ Rice confirmed his death during a horrific free-diving accident over the weekend.

Rice, an American-born kitefoiler who was slated to make his Olympic debut in the new Olympic sport in early August, is believed to have suffered from shallow water blackout—an often fatal situation where a diver loses consciousness in shallow water.

Despite being born in America, Rice was raised in Tonga, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean where his parents own and operate a tourist lodge, reported Matangi Tonga. He would have been the first Caucasian to represent Tonga in an Olympic Games.

The young athlete’s dad told Matangi the tragic accident happened Saturday, with resuscitation efforts failing. Shallow water blackout is often deadlier than typical drowning cases because the brains of victims, often free divers, were already facing severely depleted oxygen levels for a prolonged period.

Rice’s sister, Lily, posted a heartbreaking tribute to her brother on Facebook, where she called him “the most amazing brother in the whole world.” She added that he was destined to leave the Olympics with a “big shiny medal and an even bigger smile.”

“The last time I saw him, he gave me a big hug and I wish I would’ve held on for longer,” she said.

Despite being a naturalized Tongan, Matangi reported that Rice was proud to represent his new nation. With kitefoiling being an individual sport, he could have chosen to represent the U.S. but said he wanted to bring home Olympic glory to the tiny archipelago of 106,000.

Rice’s dad said he’d saved “many lives” when he was 15, telling Matangi that he helped rescue 18 people from a capsized ferryboat. On another occasion, the grieving father recalled Rice once swam beyond a sandbar to rescue a pair of girls who were being swept out to sea.

“He made so many amazing friends all over the world because he was so lovable and they’re all going to miss him dearly,” said Lily.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.