18-Year-Old Athlete Dies In Accident Weeks Before Olympic Debut

Wikimedia Commons/Public/David Broad, CC BY 3.0

Jack Slemenda Contributor
Font Size:

JJ Rice, an 18-year-old kite foiler, died Saturday in a diving accident at Faleloa, Ha’apai.

JJ Rice’s father, Darren Rice, said JJ was free-diving off a boat when he died, according to Matangi Tonga Online (MTO). It is reportedly suspected that he suffered a shallow-water blackout.

Other divers found Rice’s body below the boat on the seafloor and attempted unsuccessfully to resuscitate him, the outlet reported. (RELATED: Connecticut High School Football Player Dies Suddenly At 15)

Rice was reportedly born in the United States but raised in Ha’apai where his British parents Darren and Nina Rice are the proprietors of the Matafonua Island Lodge.

The aspiring athlete represented Tonga in kite foiling at competitions across the world, the outlet. He was reportedly a naturalized Tongan citizen.

“A kiteboarder harnesses the power of the wind with a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water, land, and snow,” the ANOC World Beach Games reads.

Rice participated in the 2024 Formula Kite World Championship in South France, according to MTO. He reportedly came home to Ha’apai and was preparing for the Olympics.

“I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he’s passed away … I miss JJ beyond belief,” Lily Rice, his sister, posted on Facebook. “He was an amazing kitefoiler and he would have made it to the Olympics and come out with a big shiny medal and a bigger smile … I love you so much.”

Darren Rice recalled when JJ had risked his life to save others after a ferryboat with 18 people aboard capsized off-shore in 2021 near Faleloa, the outlet reported. He was reportedly 15 at the time, according to his father. JJ also saved two girls who had been carried off a sandbar, his father recalled, according to the outlet.

His funeral date has reportedly not yet been announced.