Junior with USMC Camp Pendleton

What happened to Junior Seau? – Thoughts from the “Albino Samoan Girl”.

My maiden name is Marquardt.

Its German descent but a familiar last name to Samoans, thanks to WWI Germans exploiting trade and making babies there in Samoa.  In the N.County area of San Diego, Ca. where I grew up,  there was a group of Marquardt’s who were on our rival football team.  I went to Vista High with our own Samoan hero,  legendary Colorado University quarterback, Sal Aunese (RIP).  Sal would joke with the his O’side brothers to be nice to me because I was one of them.  One day someone on the Oceanside team started the joke that I was their ‘albino Samoan girl’.  A mascot of sorts. I couldn’t argue with that.

Oceanside Pier, in Oceanside, California.
Oceanside Pier, in Oceanside, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Players who surfed, including Junior, would see me out in the water and were always super friendly.  The competition for waves was always fierce especially for me as a teenage girl, but they would shelter me from oncoming posers threatening to run over the little albino Samoan girl or snaking all my waves.   I was blessed to learn how to surf in their presence, riding waves in Oceanside Harbor the Pier or Buccaneer Beach breaks.   I always loved them and a handful of other good guys, who gave me that gift growing up.  They were some of the best times of my life.

People thought Junior Seau was so lucky.  But he really sacrificed his life to rise above the beach loving, party throwing, rowdy, church going crowd…just to be able to go back to them again as the same guy that left, or so many had thought.  On his journey, he made us cheer for the Chargers even when they sucked and took what still seemed to be our small town, into the Football Hall of Fame. For that we are all grateful as he came back and used his fame to help the at-risk youth and Marines of our community and created the Junior Seau Foundation.

In his retirement,  Junior could be found on any given morning in front of his beach house doing CrossFit exersizes with local Marines, surfers, housewives, the postal carrier, whomever wanted to get down and dirty on the sand and be motivated by and become motivation for, this NFL legend.  It was a gift he freely gave to his neighborhood just south of Oceanside Pier on the strand.  A perfect view and  some of the best surf in the area was his backyard and he loved it there playing his ukulele and his spirit channeling his Samoan island ancestors.  Over the years, the Pier became home to gang-bangers and there was even an occasional murder, but for the most part people like Junior are what kept it clean, safe and under watch.   It’s a safe bet that nothing would get by Junior, if he saw it happening.

Life seemed good for Junior Seau.  He had a beautiful girlfriend Mary, who lived with him, took care of his business, made sure he remembered appointments and was devoted to him, he had kids that he loved and was so proud of his daughters on ‘The Wave’ volleyball team.  He traveled to her events and was a saving grace for the volleyball Dads who were needing a major testosterone infusion on these girls trips, or a little ukulele entertainment.   I think is safe to say is that Junior was the kind of guy with such a huge heart, that to disappoint those he loved or who looked up to him, carried guilt that couldn’t be shaken.

But there was a growing element to his personality that wasn’t like him.  Eventually it became evident in behaviors he was exhibiting.  He and Mary had a fight and a domestic disturbance call was made which threw him into the Vista jail.  The next day he drove his car off the cliff in Carlsbad.  We all knew it was a  cry for help.  Apparently, Mitchell the former Chargers pastor was counseling him.  While  Christian counseling is all well and good,  I doubt very seriously that Mitchell knew what he was dealing with nor was he trained to see the signs of the psychological impact of TBI.   Junior took many hard hits over the years, and for the most part, you just don’t get into the Football Hall of Fame without them.  Fact is, brain injury leaves a lasting impression and needs very specific treatment and attention in counseling.

Junior Seau as a Charger
Junior Seau as a Charger (Photo credit: chrisphoto)

My father, was an All American Quarterback, he told me of this  years ago when we saw football stars falling down in the public eye.  Sometimes they turned to drugs and as we watched other local players (Carlsbad you know who I’m thinking of..) make it to the NFL, only to be struck down by these injuries and poor coping skills.   The alpha male types don’t often reach out for help until they hit rock bottom.  Usually jail time, or worse.  Junior had hit rock bottom on that car ride to the Vista jail.  That was NOT the Junior Seau in his mind…he was not a criminal…he didn’t hurt or scare people.

He may have been thinking things that I hear from veterans suffering from the same…What have I become?  She would be better off without my sorry self…all I am is a burden and it’s getting worse. I could carry on about all the reasons that I think Junior’s head injuries played the major role in his suicide.  But the thing that made it clear to me was the message we got.  It could have been his last thought when he pulled that trigger to the heart, just like his friend did who wanted to save his brain for research.  I don’t think it could be any more transparent to us all, unless there was a note.

For now,  I can claim to be at least a partial TBI subject matter expert.  Starting with the fact that at age 15 my best friend was in a coma for two weeks and I moved in and helped her to rehabilitate, she had to re-learn walking, talking, adding, subtracting, common sense, just about everything came back at an accelerated pace, except many things that Junior also had issue with…short term memory, social reasoning issues with impulse and anger control and I’m sure there were others that if he had been getting treatment, an expert would have been able to diagnose.  These are parts of the brain controlled in the  frontal or occipital lobes and are also the parts that would be bruised by being tossed around in your skull.

I eventually pursued a degree in psychology sparked by that experience and began mental health testing on combat veterans, as well as, several years working for State of Ga. in Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Office of Intake and Evaluation writing reports on mental status, medical, social and environmental histories.

My jobs have made me privy to personal information by interview, observation and instinct.  People have different symptoms, but I could tell you from just talking to those who cared for him, Juniors head trauma presented as typical of a brain injury in the frontal and occipital lobes, a progressive deterioration with age (common) with impulsive, angry outbursts, very difficult to control and the resulting psychological impact is guilt and depression.   A ton of guilt because a guy like Junior thought he had to always be in control…but he was out of control with his emotions and was hurting the people he loved.

I could see how he may have rationalized what a lot of veterans that are suicidal believe, that he was …”More of a burden than a help…..  Would be better off dead with the insurance money then to have to deal with me…Its never going to get better, only worse.”  

This story is so familiar to us who work with suicidal veterans and who understand the TBI that our troops are coming home with.   So many not properly diagnosed and can be labeled as PTSD, Bi-Polar Disorder NOS or have a concussion on record but tell others they are OK and don’t get the diagnosis.  Unfortunately, what finally brings the actual brain injury to our attention can be a mental illness a  progressive disease, like Parkinsons, just think about Muhammad Ali , another disability or suicide.   Today, veteran suicide is literally an epidemic that people don’t know how to prevent.   That is why its my top priority when helping assist wounded warriors with resources and dream trips that will pull them out of that deep figure 8 track of poor self-image and depression.

I will continue to try to bring the epidemic to people’s attention because this is why we are losing more of our young men to suicide than we did in war.  OVER 18 per day and that is just the recorded suicides, not the ones by Cop or extreme activities.  Their ages are 27 and under, on average.

If we can’t take care of our young men who have been ordered to do things that we cannot even fathom in our worst dreams, then why would anyone want to volunteer for the military?   For the most part, Americans are clueless to how these invisible wounds effect so many lives until something like this happens and I know that Junior, having given so much to the troops, would want us to use his story to help them and sports athletes suffering the same, in his death.

Is brain injury linked to the suicide of Junior Seau?  (ABC News article)

This albino samoan says YES….it could actually be the biggest issue.

Rest in peace Junior.  I picture you on the endless wave where we will all meet again one day….. and this time, I’ll be tan.


15 thoughts on “What happened to Junior Seau? – Thoughts from the “Albino Samoan Girl”.”

    1. Thanks Tim. Now you know why I do what I do for our troops. Junior can teach us one last thing in his death…he’s not alone fighting the effects of brain injury.

  1. This was a beautifully written and informational article that everyone needs to read. I am also a VHS grad (85) and share your memories of that amazing, peaceful life we were all privileged to live on the beach surfing as kids in Oceanside and Carlsbad, back when there were nothing more than dirt paths down to the beaches.

    The first thing out of my husbands mouth when I told him of Jr.’s death was that he was sure it was only because of a brain injury, and from all I’ve read recently, it appears to be just that. It is devastating that his Mother, children, and family will have to endure this loss from something that seems so senseless. There must be a way to play this game without destroying people’s lives.

    Hopefully this brings this to the front of people’s minds as we welcome home our Veterans.

    1. Thank you so much for posting. This is exactly why I want people to understand what happened to him. So many rush to judgement about suicide and don’t understand that there is so much more going on besides a selfish act to just be done with life. Its complicated and scary and we have to talk about it so we can learn ways to deal with it.

  2. Jill, great job! As a Marine veteran who has a diagnosis of mTBI, I can tell you first hand the descriptions you give are accurate, almost painfully so. The rage, the guilt, the loss of memory, balance, empathy, impulse control, and so on, yes, they all are very, very real! I would point out family members and practitioners alike should learn basic indicators of TBI to recognize what veterans, athletes, etc., don’t readily recognize themselves. I went years without treatment and it wasn’t until a seizure that the puzzle began to be unraveled. I am very glad you have taken the time to share such a personal and moving story! Job well done!

    Semper Fidelis!

    1. Ruben, Let me start by saying THANK YOU for a job well done yourself. Semper Fi!
      The fact that you are alive and understanding of your condition puts you in the perfect place to help others with the same and I know that you are doing it! (I’ll get you that info you needed on the WW asap..lol)
      When you realize the symptoms of TBI and all the myriad of ways it can effect your life, you are one step closer to learning how to live with it.
      If we can teach people how to find a way to ways to accept that while you can’t blame TBI or PTSD for every poor choice or outburst, you can learn what triggers it. Then we must teach people how to internally label it and know that it’s not WHO you are, its just what you’ve been through!
      I’m glad you are still fighting the good fight for people just like yourself and Junior. Good peeps with TBI..both of ya!

  3. Awesome article Jill…as I morn over my own brothers death after a brain injury, the family is left with so many unanswered questions and emotions! However, with proper knowledge to understand what he was going through dosen’t change the heartache of his death, of course, but is healing for us to understand it and try to help others deal with the same situations and God forbid before death!. We truly appreciate your work, that in your position you are doing all that you can to make this as public as possible. People need resources on what to do to help these patients something unfortunately the state could not offer in my own familys situation in 2006, but truly pray for it to continue to get better recognized moving forward. May God bless your work in getting this information out, because it is real and there is much to be learned from it.

    1. Sherry, I am so sorry for your loss.:( Having spoken to so many families that have been through the same, I can only imagine what your pain feels like and the endless questions you all may have. Sometimes I think the biggest loss isn’t the death of our loved one, but the death of the person that they once were BEFORE the brain injury. Those memories are what tug at our hearts and pull the tears.

      I thank you so much for the encouragement as I truly don’t much of that because what I do isn’t bringing home the bacon. Its not sexy to talk about TBI and PTSD and all the issues that our combat wounded war fighters have to live with. However, I am motivated every time I can help touch a life or make an impact, even if its just one person.

      My ultimate dream is to bring it to the mainstream networks and I have several concepts that would do that in a way that America could enjoy without it being a giant bummer…cause this stuff aint easy to talk about! Its sad stuff, but its not going away and we need more resources and tools on how to deal with the cards we’ve been played as families, friends and patriots.

      I feel like the bottom line is that we’re ALL in this together with our troops, otherwise, why do we have them in the first place?

  4. Jill, thank you for this, brought back a lot of good memories and opened my eyes to some realities.

  5. Just got this on my Linked In. THIS IS WHY I POSTED THIS ARTICLE.
    “You did an outstanding job of assessing the reasons behind Junior Seau’s tragic suicide. I found your post to be informative, relevant, and most of all, quite poignant because of your personal knowledge of Junior. I am a former Marine, a Disabled Vietnam Veteran who has experienced numerous concussions over the years – accidental, sports, fights, incoming mortars, rockets and artillery in Vietnam, etc. I plan to have the VA check me out for possible damage from repeated hits to the head now.
    Oceanside and San Diego have more legitimate claims to Junior, but we in New England love and respect this man who captured our hearts in his four year stint with the Patriots.
    Rest in Peace, Buddy.”

  6. Wonderfully written, poignant, and so compelling. Your knowledge, background, and newest pursuits are all guided. Great job, Jilly, and God bless you, my friend! I’m sorry for your personal loss of Junior.

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