When Danyel Longmire’s dad Michael was feeling blue, there was no way he could hide it from his youngest daughter. From a young age, empathy was Danyel’s sixth sense. “You need a tissue?” she’d ask. You got an issue?”
It was hard not to feel better after a few minutes with Danyel. As mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend, and as a professional therapist at the Lolo School since 2014, she had a knack for pulling pain out of people. Sometimes the process of pain extraction by Danyel was sweet, like when she was a five-year-old and first met her new stepmother Jennifer who had no kids of her own and was feeling trepidation. Danyel crawled up in Jennifer’s lap, wrapped her arms around her, and instantly doubled her mom count (she’d end up with three). At other times the pain extraction hurt. A Danyel hug has been known to pop vertebrae.
Danyel enveloped people. Maybe it was a coping response from an early childhood spent in wild country. Her biological mom Stephanie and Stephanie’s husband Nicholas, a fisheries biologist, were stationed on the Lochsa for a time. It felt remote to Danyel, so she pulled the people around her closer. Stephanie once watched as Danyel and Angela padded off down a dirt road to light their first campfire—and talk endlessly around it. Later in life, Danyel’s favorite camping spot was Finley Point on Flathead. “That place speaks to her soul,” says Angela. “The fires and the talks and the music. You can’t see the end of the lake because it just stretches so big and beautiful and timeless.”
But that’s jumping ahead. Danyel’s first passion beyond family was running. Which came as a shock to Michael, a former competitive runner himself with an eye for form. “When she first started she was the worst runner you ever saw,” he says. “Her legs were wrong, almost wriggling, and her head was flopping all over the place. But then one day she just snapped out of it, and it wasn’t long after that I couldn’t keep up.” As a sophomore at a brand new high school in Rio Rancho, New Mexico where Jennifer lived, Danyel went undefeated and won states. She holds the record as the school’s first state champion. Her college coach at Northwest University says she was the best endurance athlete he ever coached.
Danyel holds other records, official and otherwise, lofty and weird. In college Danyel got so sick with a fever on a road trip with friends that she broke the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the Boise Hospital. One of her many grandmothers sat with her till it broke. When her knees and shins got wonky after college and grad school, her husband Joe Chalmers and dad Michael (“Longmire” to friends) got her into cycling, she took to that too and now owns many an uphill leaderboard on the cycling app Strava. As a kid, she’d fish the Yellowstone with stepdad Nicholas for eight hours at a stretch, wearing out even Nicholas and breaking down crying when it was time to head back for dinner. In college, Danyel didn’t just work one summer job on Alaska’s Katmai National Forest, she worked three—until she passed out while waitressing and scaled back to two. At the Lolo School as a therapist, she never took a lunch break, checked in constantly on her co-workers, and worked way beyond her salary in the care of kids. Not much for descending on a mountain bike after her first try ended in stitches, when Danyel went to the front on a group ride with Joe, Longmire, and friends, conversation often stopped. You can’t talk when you can’t breathe. Call that the local record for making strong dudes eat humble pie. To the people that knew her well, she holds the record for lives changed for the better. And although they don’t give trophies for it, it would be difficult to imagine a more engaged and loving mother to Joe and Danyel’s daughter Payton.
If a life together is a series of shared experiences, then Joe and Payton enjoyed many lives with Danyel. It’s not often that a father plays the role of matchmaker—in fact it’s quite bizarre if we’re being honest—but it was Longmire that convinced Joe (during a bike race of course) that he had to meet Danyel. Just before the wedding, half the party went out for a ride on Blue Mountain. Naturally it turned into a drop ride, meaning people got dropped. “They shared this superhuman ability to take in oxygen and put it to work in their muscles,” says their friend Donovan. To be born to such bloodlines meant that Payton too would spend her days riding bikes, skiing nordic and alpine, and heading out on routine but vital hikes with mom, dad, and the family bowzer Dolce. On the ski hill, Payton learned speed before skill (like her dad) and was always first to help a kindergartner get on the lift (like her mom). You can’t help but see them both in her.
Now Danyel is gone where those who love her can’t follow. As with bike racing, the gap can’t be closed. But we can still learn from her beautiful life. In the therapy business, the term “self care” is thrown around like a mantra. When your days are spent helping children navigate life’s traumas, “giving until the cup is empty” according to a Lolo School colleague, it’s vital to turn your eye inward and treat yourself with that same love and care. It’s still unfathomable to those that knew and loved her brightness, but as adept as Danyel was at alleviating suffering around her, she sequestered pain like a big ponderosa sequesters carbon—all strength and warm vanilla scents on the outside but secretly knotted up within.
To be with Danyel again, simply move through the natural world that she loved so much. Feel the pleasant ache of your legs and the rhythm of your heart, and then sit by some eternal lake with friends and family. But to honor Danyel, check in with those around you—tissues for issues—and hug them till they crack. Just don’t forget to check in with yourself and burn up that pain until it blows away with the August haze.
In lieu of memorial services, a gofundme page has been set up for Joe and Payton to use as needed and to alleviate any financial strain they encounter so they may focus on finding peace and healing. Danyel would also want to let the world know that help is available at the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, and that on September 12th in Missoula, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is holding an Out Of The Darkness community walk. More information here: https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=6725