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Rootseart Brislen


 Right Back 

Grad Year:



 Political Economies of Industrial Societies 

Favorite Berkeley Eats:

 Zachary's & Yokahama Station  

Favorite Study Spot at Cal:

 Café Strada

Favorite Watering Hole While at Cal:

 Come Back In

Favorite Cal Soccer Memory:

 1) Watching a beer being poured on Nute’s (Chris Olin’s) head by another teammate the night before a game, thinking “wow, we must all be good friends”.  2) Katie jumping in a man-made pool at a frat party and thinking she broke her arm.  Katie being taken to the hospital with Lisa in the ambulance.  Michelle, Stacey and Tiffany soaking wet, thinking it was a great idea to hop on a 2-person scooter at midnight and ride it through Oakland to the hospital only to find out it was just a piece of bamboo in Katie’s arm.

Michelle “Roots” Rootseart—Where do you begin with such a phenomenal person? Michelle started at Cal in 1990 and graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Economies of Industrial Societies (PEIS). She holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching Biological Sciences from Miami University and is currently a Marine Science teacher at San Clemente High School, sharing a classroom wall with another Cal women’s Soccer alum, Stacey Juhl Finnerty.  Michelle was an outside back and a fantastic teammate.  Her journey at Cal took a major detour her junior year when she was blindsided by being cut from the team.  A loss felt by her as well as by all of us who played with her.  Having played soccer since she was 6, Michelle found herself in uncharted territory.  Michelle decided to take control of her fate and took advantage of being enrolled at the top public university in the world and immersed herself in her studies.  She also focused on finding herself without soccer, a feat that I believe many of us who play or have played, would find extremely difficult. Despite not being on the team any longer, Michelle made lifelong friendships with her soccer teammates.  These relationships along with her family’s support helped her move forward in her college career sans soccer, but it was Michelle’s own perseverance and determination that brought her to the finish line when she graduated from Cal in 4 years. Michelle’s early experience with the loss of her sport definitely gave her strength and insight, but it could not have fully prepared her for the tragedy that struck on May 26th, 2011.


In 1997, Michelle met Drew.  Drew was one of a kind and when they met, sparks flew.  They married in 2000 and had 2 beautiful daughters, Sage and Addie.  Drew was an architectural draftsman and Michelle a school teacher, they lived a fun life and were happily married.  But on May 26, 2011, little did Michelle know that a diving accident of a different sort would alter her life forever. After a normal morning of waking up to go to work, saying goodbye and “I love you” to her husband, Drew, and with plans later that night to attend their kids school Open House, was the last time she was able to see, hug and kiss her husband. It was the last day their children got to see their dad, Sage was 7 and Addie was 5.  That morning, Drew was planning to surprise Michelle and their daughters with a fresh caught fish—a sheep head fish typically located near Heisler Park in Laguna Beach. He was an avid SCUBA and free diver. That morning he left and went free diving alone just to surprise them with dinner.  Drew didn’t come home that night. There was no call, no note, and he never came home. Michelle saw that his dive weights were not in the garage and his mask and Hawaiian Sling (spear) was gone. She enlisted the help of his family and friends as well as emergency services to scour the shores of the beaches. He was found later that night floating in a nearby kelp bed off of Picnic Beach.

The cause of death for Drew was “water in the sinuses and cardiac arrest as a result of Shallow Water Blackout.” Michelle had first learned about this phenomenon when a dive friend mentioned it while searching for Drew’s dive equipment in the kelp bed.  Because no weights had been dropped to the ocean floor, he knew it had to be Shallow Water Blackout (SWB).  SWB is an underwater “faint” due to a lack of oxygen to the brain brought on by holding your breath for long periods of time and low levels of CO2.  Without immediate rescue, the swimmer may quickly drown.  At this time, Michelle had so many questions and chose to learn everything she could about SWB to help her understand why Drew’s death happened.  Having lived by the water for decades, Michelle was stunned that she had never heard the term Shallow Water Blackout before.  She decided at that point to take control and try to turn a horrific accident into a teaching opportunity to prevent SWB from happening to others.  For the last 10 years, Michelle has educated both state and city (San Clemente) Junior Lifeguards, San Clemente Aquatic Team coaches, Capo Unified School District PE teachers and coaches, local dive shop owners and many others about SWB prevention as well as discussing grief, depression and suicide prevention. Her desire to take control of her life and share her experience with thousands of people every year has undeniably saved numerous lives.

Learn More About Drew's passing and the work Michelle has done to raise awareness about Shallow Water Blackout:

The impending grief and trauma of unexpectedly losing the love of your life and father of your children is not something anyone can prepare for. Throughout Michelle’s journey, her Cal soccer peeps never left her side. As Michelle said, “soccer brought us together and it will always keep us together.” As a matter of fact, led by Stacey Juhl Finnerty, her Cal peeps surprised Michelle by competing on the short-lived game show, “You Deserve It” and won money to help offset the cost of all that she went through. 

Michelle was also very close to her mother-in-law, Dee, and feels that the faith Dee showed to stay positive through her own fight with stage 4 colon cancer is some of what helped Michelle through severe grief, depression, and suicidal thoughts.  

Shallow Water Blackouts


Suicide Prevention

Helping Hand Badge

Mental Health Support

A Supportive Hug
Woman Writing

My memory of Michelle is when we were running on College Avenue together and suddenly she stopped to help a man in a wheelchair get on a bus. As I turned around to see where she had when I saw her struggling to put the wheelchair on the bus with the man in it but the man was complaining because he actually was trying to get off the bus and she was pushing him on the bus. It was funny but it also showed how Michelle had a big heart to help others in need even if it was helping in the wrong direction.

  Stacey “Juhl" Finnerty ‘94 

What I love about Michelle is she is always up to rally no matter what!  She was a great teammate, friend, classmate, wife, mom and the list goes on and on.  Once Drew passed, Michelle continued to keep that unwavering optimistic attitude and what I continue to be impressed with her is her call to help and serve other whether it be as a teacher, parent or friend.  I truly admire her ability to be present.  She lives each day to the fullest!  Anytime I call her regardless of the time a day she picks up the phone.  She has witnessed first-hand the beauty of life and the importance of being present knowing each day is a gift.

 Tiffany (Hobbs) Gieck  ‘95 

And it wouldn’t do this story justice if we didn’t also mention that Michelle and her kids have been able to work through this tragedy to positively affect others. Most importantly Michelle has found love again in a wonderful man, Greg Riley. They met on the dating app Plenty of Fish about 3 years after Drew’s passing. They have been married for about 5.5 years and they have a blended “Brady Bunch” family—Greg has two sons, Ian (18) and Nate (17), and


Michelle’s two daughters, Sage (17) and Addie (15). They have 2 dogs, a cat, and a disabled desert tortoise named Tripod. Michelle says that Greg is a special man “who can do the hard things like allowing me to grieve freely the love I lost” and who is always there by her side. He gives her the space to be herself. Greg is an amazing dad to Addie and Sage and the kids get along great being involved in various activities like rugby, soccer, sailing, and sea scouts.


If you want to know what power, strength, love and resilience look like, just take a look at Michelle and her family and you will be inspired. And please take a moment to learn about Shallow Water Blackout as well as grief/loss and suicide prevention. May 2021 was Mental Health Awareness Month and marked the 10-year anniversary of Drew’s passing. Let’s work together to celebrate a wonderful man, an incredible family and help prevent others from going through such a terrible and unexpected loss.

Written By: Lisa "Cote" Luengo & Kim Brady

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