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Drowning victim remembered as fitness enthusiast who lived to help others

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To celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, Peter and Lisa Margaritis planned a trip to Aruba in November. The couple, who met at NYU Winthrop Hospital while working with the Mineola Volunteer Ambulance Corps, dreamed of retiring to the North Fork in three years, after their son, Andrew, graduated from Chaminade High School. 

Ms. Margaritis fell in love with the North Fork, her husband said, even before her parents, Jean and John Weber, purchased their second home in Southold. When the couple became engaged, they stayed at the Bartlett House on Main Road in Greenport Village, now the Tapestry Inn.

The Margaritis family was preparing to move into a Southold house that they would share with the Webers, Mr. Margaritis said.

To celebrate her 48th birthday July 31, she and her family spent last week on the North Fork, which they would soon call home. A fitness enthusiast and personal trainer who once won a gold medal in judo at the Empire State Games, Ms. Margaritis joined a paddleboard yoga class on Friday, a warm, sunny morning.

Shortly before 10 a.m., the class took a tragic turn as Ms. Margaritis attempted to rescue another woman who was caught in a rip current in Hashamomuck Pond.

“She loved the water, she loved life, she loved people,” Mr. Margaritis said of his wife. “She touched so many people in a bright way.”

Ms. Weber said the class included her daughter, another woman and a female instructor from the Giving Room, a Southold yoga studio. As the group tried to make their way under the Long Island Rail Road bridge that spans Mill Creek, one of the paddlers struggled with the current, according to Southold Town police reports.

Ms. Margaritis, an experienced paddleboarder, tried to assist the woman, but her leg strap got caught around a bridge piling and the strong tide pushed her underwater, reports said. She was unable to free herself, police said.

The area near where Ms. Margaritas lost her life. (Credit: Tara Smith)

A passing jogger jumped into the water and managed to free Ms. Margaritis from the piling and bring her ashore, police said.

Southold police, members of the Southold Fire Department Rescue Squad and a Stony Brook Hospital paramedic all responded. First responders began CPR on Ms. Margaritis and she was transported to Eastern Long Island Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead, police said.

Police said Ms. Margaritis was wearing an inflatable personal flotation device that went around her waist.

Ms. Margaritis, born in Queens, worked as a registered nurse at Northwell Health in Nassau County, was yoga-certified and took classes at The Giving Room, Ms. Weber said. She was also a mixed martial arts specialist.

The day before the accident, her father said, he followed her in a boat along the paddleboard yoga route so she could familiarize herself with it. Her 15-year-old son joined them in a kayak. They took off from Budds Pond near her parents’ home.

Ms. Weber said she’s devastated by the loss of her only daughter.

“I just don’t know what we’re going to do without our Lisa,” she said. “She was a very courageous, very giving person to everyone that knew her.”

Lisa Margaritas in a photo provided by her family.

Anthony Garcia, of Garcia Muay Thai kickboxing gym in Glen Cove, said Ms. Margaritis worked at his facility for nearly 10 years as a trainer and fitness instructor for kids and adults.

“She was everything,” Mr. Garcia said. “She was loved by everybody. She greeted everybody at the door with a hug and a kiss, no matter how big, how small, how old … it was unconditional, it was automatic.”

Ms. Margaritis, a first-degree Judo black belt, earned her gold medal in judo in the early 1990s, while attending the Polytechnic Institute of N.Y. in Farmingdale. She graduated from Adelphi University with a nursing degree in 1996.

She also worked as a trainer for disabled children and adults at two locations of LifeTime Athletic in Garden City, Ms. Weber said.

Peter Margaritis said he knew when they first met that she was the woman he would marry.

“I’m missing her, but I’m thinking about her smile,” he said.

At the gym, Mr. Garcia said, Ms. Margaritis always had a spare pair of gloves for someone else.

“She was all about helping people in need,” he said. “She always had an extra pair of gloves, like, ‘You’re not prepared but I am, so here.’ ”

Her giving personality prompted Mr. Garcia to create a GoFundMe page, with donations going directly to the Church of St. Aidan in Williston Park, where Ms. Margaritis attended services. Approximately $5,170 had been raised as of Wednesday morning.

A funeral Mass was celebrated Tuesday at St. Aidan’s, followed by interment at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.

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