Man who died saving wife from rip current honored as hero

Damian Walker, 33, died after saving his wife from drowning during a family trip to Puerto Rico.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 1:12 AM PDT
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PHOENIX (KPHO/Gray News) - A beloved CrossFit coach from Phoenix is now a hero in the hearts of many after he died saving his wife from drowning during a family trip.

Damian Walker, 33, had a big personality you could not miss, his bosses say.

“He was a jokester. He loved to laugh. He loved to dance. He loved superheroes and Marvel and anime,” said Tiffany Divelbiss, co-owner of Wildfire CrossFit, where Walker worked.

Walker signed up as a member when the gym opened 10 years ago and quickly turned into a coach. The gym’s owners told KPHO he lived life to the fullest.

“He always just wanted people to succeed and be able to be their best and have fun with it, and that’s just the energy he always brought,” gym co-owner Skip Divelbiss said.

Walker and his family were scattering his grandfather’s ashes March 3 in the ocean in Puerto Rico, according to Tiffany Divelbiss. Suddenly, a rip current swept away Walker’s wife and other family members.

“Damian jumped in, as he 100% lived his life with that hero mentality: ‘I’m just gonna go in and save them,’” Tiffany Divelbiss said.

Though his wife made it out of the water, Walker himself drowned. His father, who went in after him, also drowned. The father’s body has still not been recovered.

“He [Walker] would be proud of the way things happened. He always wanted to be a superhero, and in the end, that’s the way he ended up,” Skip Divelbiss said.

To honor Walker, Wildfire CrossFit created a “hero workout” with all of his favorite moves.

“To have him and that personality ripped away, there’s been a huge hole in everybody’s hearts,” Tiffany Divelbiss said.

On April 2, which would’ve been Walker’s 34th birthday, the gym will host a celebration of life, where all athletes will crush the workout just like Walker would have.

“That’s the cool legacy, inspiration, that we’re all holding onto to be able to heal through this heartbreak,” Tiffany Divelbiss said.

Wildfire CrossFit’s owners say former members have been returning to the gym as a way to honor Walker. Other athletes across the nation have completed the hero workout.

The gym also set up a GoFundMe page to help Walker’s family with funeral expenses. It has raised more than $25,000.