Humbled by Gifts, Couple Rebuilds Their Lives

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FirestormLOGOBy Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent

Susan and Langdon DuBois
Susan and Langdon DuBois

As water-dropping helicopters soared overhead, one asked a prescient question:  “What would you do if you lost your house?”

“I told her I walk what I talk…that material things aren’t most important. Health and happiness are.’”

Little did he know that by the end of the day, DuBois and his wife, Susan, would be without a home, a job or even a toothbrush.

When word spread around his neighborhood on Manzanita Street above Laguna Beach High School, that the fire had jumped the canyon and was heading towards town, DuBois scurried under his house to capture the couple’s cat. Hearing his wife screaming hysterically, he emerged to see the eucalyptus trees in his back yard exploding and a 30-foot wall of flames “coming towards us like a freight train.” With wet towels over their heads and pets in their arms, the couple raced to their cars agreeing to simply head south away from the firestorm.

With a crush of people trying to do the same, it took 45 minutes just to get the few blocks to Legion Street and by that time the couple was separated. They found each other at the corner of Legion and Glenneyre and stuck together “like glue” until reaching a friend’s condo in Laguna Niguel. There, the gathered refugees tried calling home. One neighbor got his answering machine. The DuBois got a busy signal…not a good sign.

At dawn the next day, with a local nurse as a passenger, the couple was able to return to a town resembling a war zone with gas line fires burning at the homes the fire had destroyed…including their own.

DuBois’ newly purchased gym equipment was a twisted, mangled mess. A stack of weights had plunged through the floor into the roof of a once mint condition Jaguar now smoldering in the garage.

The couple’s home, their source of income and all their possessions were gone. What they had not lost were their friends and a community that rallied to aid them and the other 390 families that had lost their homes.

The hotel formerly known as Vacation Village offered them a discounted room for a month. People offered their home gyms as places were DuBois could continue his personal training.

Wanting to offer a consistent, quality experience for his clients, DuBois needed to again have his own studio. And the couple’s friends helped get it started. One client bought a treadmill, another a weight machine and money began showing up in their bank account enabling DuBois Fitness Studio to be up and running again by the first of the year.

“We were never in a position to need anything; we were used to giving” DuBois said. “This gave us an opportunity to receive.”

The Saturday after the fire DuBois decided to hold his regularly scheduled workout class. Walking into the packed room, he said, was “one of the most memorable moments of my life. There was so much love. We all needed each other.”

Now 20 years later, together with Susan, who takes care of the business and scheduling, DuBois is still training “Laguna’s finest,” not to be Olympic athletes, but to help people “keep their lives big.” He has had many of the same clients since 1988 and now often helps people regain their strength, flexibility and health following “all kinds of injuries, back problems and surgeries. When the door closes, it’s just the client and myself, one on one, and I can get a sense of what a person needs” helping many surmount “huge challenges,” DuBois said.

“Laguna Beach has blessed us,” he said. And added Susan, “We are overwhelmed with gratitude.”

 

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