Our Story

Lara: We met in 2004 when I joined the crew of Jason’s J24 for the King’s Day PHRF Regatta. I was introduced by Brad (pictured below, left) as a potential addition to the Dixie Chicken‘s regular racing crew. Brad and I worked together, and we were dating at the time, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say, we remain great friends, and I am ever grateful for Brad, because without his friendship over the years, I never would be standing where I will be on February 8. Thank you Brad.

How we met: Rush

The Rush family – Team Rush, Easter Regatta, South Carolina
Bradley Stookey, Lara Ortiz, Robby Brown, Steve Buchanan, Jason Decker

Anyway, one soaking wet but victorious regatta later, my rookie 22-year-old self was dubbed “Star Power” and welcomed into the fold. Brad, Steve, Jason and I, often accompanied by our on-and-off teammate Robby, spent the next five years racing together. Dixie Chicken evolved into Rush, and while lots of aspects of our lives changed over the years, the “Rush crew” was always the constant.

Practice trimming in México with the crew

The Rush team was like a family. We had our dysfunctional moments, but we had one another’s backs. At the end of the day, the one constant in our sailing family was our bond. Our love of sailing, competing and striving to win together, and the good times and camaraderie we shared as a part of that, fashioned a unique loyalty and trust among the crew.

People who claim to be experts on the subject of marriage often underscore the importance of a genuine friendship between two people before a marriage begins — the kind that carries on after the “I dos.” Looking back now, I believe I first came to know Jason as a friend, not just some guy I knew, while we were working on the Florida Yacht Club dock after a Wednesday night race. As we were putting the committee boat away, I told him was wrestling with some concerns about my future in Jacksonville. Jason stopped his work and offered his full attention. After listening, he shared some of his own relatable experiences. At the end of the conversation I went away with some perspective, and a friend. I gave myself a good shake and relaxed into a life in Jacksonville where I grew roots and a friendship that altered my life as time unfolded.

I recognized in Jason a lot of the same values I have, both personally and professionally. I respect Jason for his honesty, for his quiet leadership and his creativity in addressing problems, the scores of patience he possesses (though I have seen him run out a time or two!) I’m not sure what he saw in me, but whatever it was, a strong friendship grew from there. Now I can say I love him for the excitement, spontaneity, and balance he brings into my life. He challenges me to take risks, has an unbelievably optimistic outlook, and is one of the most kind, loyal and reliable friends, and partners, a person could have.

The getting together for Jason and I had its fits and starts, but life has a way of turning out how it wants to regardless of how much any of us tries to mold it to our expectations.

In late 2009, after timing succeeded at pulling us apart for what we both believed was the final time, I knew the best thing for me was a reset. I decided to leave Jacksonville behind to chase a dream I’d had for a decade, and have some adventures that would clear my mind. I didn’t see Jason for months, but I couldn’t shake him from my heart or head. I worked on accepting we were star-crossed and got on with my dream chasing.

New Zealand

Voyage to the ends of the Earth…

I researched TransPac regattas as a way of getting into some physical challenges before making my way to New Zealand for a year’s working holiday, and quickly realized they were way harder core than anything I was looking for. After that, I turned to round-the world sailing rallies, and I eventually found one that was going exactly my way: The Pacific Puddle Jump. I eventually located a boat with a captain that was looking for crew, and I set my sights on Chaguaramas, Trinidad, to start my great adventure west. Life was looking bright and full of possibilities, and I was feeling excited to strike out and chase a new adventure. I had one final regatta at the Florida Yacht Club just before Thanksgiving, then the holidays, and in January I’d be off to the Sunny Caribbee for the voyage of a lifetime.

"Mountain man" JasonThen, I saw Jason at King’s Day Regatta. He had a beard, and was looking really buff. Apparently he was somewhere between his “mountain man” and “Crossfit every day” phases, which I now understand to be the “Jason” version of my own “I need an adventure” phase.

Not wanting to rehash past chapters, we tried to avoid one another all weekend long, but the pull was too great. There was no denying we remained head over heels in love with one another, no matter what “timing” had to say about it. A week later he appeared at my house, making a very persuasive appeal that we hit the “reset” button together, clear the slate, and make it work. I wasn’t sure if I was crazy for considering it, or would be crazy for not giving us one last chance, but I am so thankful we risked it, because it turns out this time was the charm.

We spent the holidays together with friends and family, then Jason and I flew to Trinidad on $89 air tickets, which was such an incredible steal, it had to have been fate. The rest is history, thoroughly detailed on our blog, Sail into the Sun, or for the abridged version, check Jason’s story of our engagement. It was probably the best year of our lives, and no doubt changed the course of our futures.

Reggae Sunday in Jax

Reggae Sunday in Jax

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One thought on “Our Story

  1. I had no idea. It’s always interesting to me to read people’s story; yours is no exception, and a true love story also. So glad that we got to spend some time with you both and share our home with you for awhile. I know there were some stressful times but it all worked out well in the end. Love you both.

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