Six days after she buried her husband—the father of their four children—at Arlington National Cemetery, Carryn Weigand Owens sat across the Potomac River in the Capitol as President Trump and both houses of Congress joined in applauding her.
“We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy special operator, Senior Chief William ‘Ryan’ Owens,” Trump said.
Part of what made the moment so searing for anybody of any political persuasion who witnessed it on television was that Carryn’s immeasurable grief and anguish were so fresh and raw.
But there was also something else, something that made the sight even more heart-wrenching and yet soul-stirring, something that a teammate from her college soccer team recognized as uniquely Carryn, emanating from her very core.
“You could still see that in her,” Angela Hucles, who served with Carryn as co-captain of the University of Virginia Cavaliers women’s soccer team in 2000, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Hucles was asked to describe exactly what it was she had seen.
“Just the strength,” Hucles said. “Just knowing who she is as a person.”
Hucles was talking about a particular kind of strength in a particular kind of person.
Carryn was not simply a player of such innate ability and honed skills that as a teen that she was enrolled in the Hall of Fame at Paul VI Catholic High School in Virginia. She had the added potency both on and off the field in college of never showboating, never trying to be a star, never thinking just of herself.
“Dedicated, committed, and passionate about the sport and for the team as well,” Hucles said. “Feisty… but she was also a leader. She was always there to see the team be successful, not just herself.”
She never sought to overcome what stood only in the way of her individual purpose at the moment. She always did what was best for the whole team. And she always gave it her all.
“Every time she stepped on a field and every time at practice,” Hucles recalled, adding, “It was awesome.”
Carryn’s main role was defense and that remained her priority in a game—she was the Defensive MVP at the Coca-Cola Classic tournament in 1997. But when she received the ball from the goalkeeper and sent it down the field, she set the course of the attack.
And she would join in with the offense when she was needed, for she was especially good at heading a ball. She proved that when she got a quick pass from teammate Katie Tracy in the 82nd minute of a scoreless game against Florida State University in October 1999.
“After an offensive flurry by the Cavaliers, Tracy picked up a loose ball in the transition and alertly flicked it into the air where [Carryn] Weigand got a head on it and put it past the outstretched hands of the Florida State keeper… to knock home her third game-winner of the season,” the University of Virginia sports pages reported.
Tracy and Hucles both went on to play professionally. Hucles won two Olympic Gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team.
Carryn had completed a five-year course that led to both a B.A. and a Master’s in education, but she chose to serve her country as an intelligence officer beginning right around the time of the 9/11 attacks. A Virginia alumni website reported an important development in her personal life:
“Carryn Weigand ’99 (Education ’00) celebrated her recent engagement at the April 2003 Foxfield Races to Ryan Owens, a U.S. Navy SEAL in San Diego,” the website reported. “Carryn continues in her third year as a technical operations officer for the U.S. government, fighting the war on terror.”
The Foxfield Races are a steeplechase event held twice a year; the one in April is a youthful event where many women wear sunhats and men sport brightly colored bow ties. William Ryan Owens had wanted to be a SEAL since his early teens and had joined the Navy right after graduating from high school, where a yearbook photo shows him making a big game-saving catch as a member of the baseball team just as Carryn had made a big game-winning header in soccer in college. Ryan had begun his SEAL training just about when Carryn began her intelligence work and America needed both of them.
The following year, the website related the happy news that, “Carryn Weigand Owens ’99 (Education ’00) married Ryan Owens on March 6, 2004, in Fort Myer, Va. She continues to do contract work for the intelligence community and now lives in San Diego, where Ryan is stationed as a Navy SEAL.”
Later in 2004, they moved back east, to Virginia and SEAL Team 6. He is said to have deployed a total of 12 times, his passion and dedication and selflessness continually proving that in his essence he was a perfect match for Carryn. She remained home as their family grew to a boy and three girls. She showed those same core virtues as a wife and a mother as she had in the intelligence world and on the soccer field.
“The quality of the player and the quality of the person,” Hucles said.
After 15 members of SEAL Team 6 were killed along with 15 other U.S. service members in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in August 2011, Ryan was reportedly assigned to escort the remains of his comrades home. President Obama stood on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as the flag-draped transfer cases were carried off the plane.
At some point, perhaps after SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden, Ryan and his team visited the White House. A photo shows him in dress uniform, playing with the Obama’s dogs. Ryan himself still seemed to have a puppy-dog playfulness about him even after spending half his life at war. You have to think a good part of that was the healing powers of whatever days he had with Carryn and the kids.
In the final days of the Obama administration, planning began for a SEAL Team 6 mission in Yemen. The new president, Donald Trump, gave the final approval and the SEALs swooped in on their latest target eight days after the inauguration, on Jan. 28. Ryan was shot to death when an unexpectedly fierce gunfight erupted.
Trump was now the one to stand on the tarmac at Dover. And Ryan was now the one whose remains were carried off the plane. Ryan’s father, retired Fort Lauderdale Police Officer Bill Owens, declined to meet with Trump, who had come with his daughter Ivanka. Carryn apparently did meet with them.
On Feb. 22, Ryan was buried in Grave 11483, Section 60 at Arlington. The many SEALs in attendance performed a ritual that Ryan had performed for others, each taking the gold badge—a trident held by an eagle—from their uniforms and pressing it into the wood of the coffin.
Six days later, Carryn was seated with Ivanka Trump at the Capitol as the new president delivered his first speech to Congress. Carryn’s mother and father were also there. Ryan’s father was not present for reasons he had already expressed, in grief turned to anger. Ryan’s mother had died in 2014 after she, too, served as a Fort Lauderdale police officer.
When Trump spoke of Ryan and pointed to Carryn, the whole country saw her fresh, raw pain. They also saw her strength, which Hucles and those who know her have always seen.
This coming Sunday will bring her and her four kids to what would have been Ryan’s 37th birthday. The next day would have been their 13th wedding anniversary.
“She’ll get through,” Hucles told The Daily Beast.