Aberdeen woman in fatal handcar race “took on the world”

Robert Haase and Charity Lisherness, who worked together in a massage therapist business.
Robert Haase and Charity Lisherness, who worked together in a massage therapist business. Courtesy toThe News Tribune

Charity Lisherness loved to run and stay fit.

So when the massage therapist traveled for her work with the Olympia-based Haase & Associates, her boss said Lisherness had two rules.

“When we went to a hotel, she’d make me get the highest floor possible so that she could take the stairs,” Robert Haase said.

Also, Lisherness would discourage him from renting a car so they could walk to their classes and meetings.

Lisherness, 47, of Aberdeen died Saturday after falling off a railroad handcar she was racing during the annual Wilkeson Days festival.

“It sounds like she fell backward off the handcar and immediately got run over,” said Buckley Police Chief Jim Arsanto.

Lisherness graduated from Haase’s Body Mechanics school about 10 years ago. In 2007, she became Haase’s lead assistant, and traveled with him around the country to conduct workshops on massage and deep tissue treatment for therapists, chiropractors and other health care providers. Lisherness also worked as a massage therapist in the beach town of Seabrook, Haase said.

He said Lisherness’ family is reeling with the news of her death, but said she’ll be remembered as someone who was full of spunk and energy.

“She was an ultra-marathoner,” Haase said. “A true redhead. ... She just took on the world.”

Haase said Lisherness is survived by her husband, Dennis, and their 21-year-old daughter, Lunden.

The tragedy is believed to be the first in Wilkeson Days’ 40-year history.

Bill Summers, president of the town’s booster club that organizes the event, said everyone in the community is still in shock over Lisherness’ death.

“As a small community, everybody’s very upset,” Summers said.

He couldn’t recall any other deaths or serious injuries since the races started in the summer of 1975. Organizers haven’t discussed if there will be any changes to the races in the future, he said.

“We haven’t thought about anything but the family at this point,” Summers said.

The handcars can reach speeds of 60 mph on the 410 feet of slightly uphill track in the northeast Pierce County town. Races usually last 20 to 30 seconds.

The handcars are an homage to the history of Wilkeson, a Mount Rainier foothills community built on coal and sandstone mining and lumber before the turn of the last century. They once were used to patrol railroad tracks for damage.

The races first started when a few locals got together to organize a special event for the community’s annual Fourth of July celebration. The races have been a hit since, attracting competitors from all over Washington, other states and Canada.

Staff reporter Alexis Krell contributed to this report.