It started out so harmless. Windy, but the warmest day we’d feel during our week away according to all reports. We woke early and headed to the beach, where the surf was a little scary, if you ask me. But there were kids everywhere; desperate northerners ready for water and sand, no matter how they got it. Our three kids were no exception.
After a walk and a shallow swim, we headed to some wind-reprieve poolside. We found it, and the kids made a new friend, too. Elianna and Logan really hit it off and all four swam, hot-tubbed and chicken fought the day away. We also met Elianna’s dad Allen, visiting his parents from Tennessee. Midday, we fought the waves once more and then came back to the pool. Around 3 PM, Elianna arrived with two boogie boards and asked if Logan could go try them out on the surf. Mike and Allen took them out to the beach.
What happened next comes from all four, who have recounted the event in the days since. After lots of boogie board fun, Mike says that he started to notice that the girls were struggling to get back to shore. The men quickly made their way out to them, Logan finding a lucky spot just outside the trouble area, gaining a foothold and making her way to Mike and out of the water. When he looked back out, he knew that Allen and Elianna were in trouble. He went right back out.
Initially, they were all together, trying to keep their heads above water, stay connected and make their way back. Just moments earlier, the dads discussed how you don’t fight a riptide, that you head out diagonally until you can get back in down shore. But once caught in a riptide, it doesn’t take long for rational thinking to morph into panic, and you’re just fighting for your life.
And Mike says that’s just what he was doing, that he couldn’t believe the power this riptide had over him and that he could barely help Allen and his daughter. Within an unknown period of time, he began to believe he was actually going to drown and he hesitated calling for help, as he didn’t want to put anyone else in danger. Twenty feet away he could see young kids playing in the very same water, yet each unforgiving overhead wave zapped his strength and prevented him from gaining control. He was exhausted, but he made the right decision and screamed for help. Allen, who was just as tired, took his lead and started yelling too, telling us later that it never even dawned on him to call out until he heard Mike do it. So strange how the brain works in moments like these.
The story gets sketchy here, as both Mike and Allen don’t remember this part clearly. And poor Logan sat watching from the side in terror as her Daddy struggled and was rescued, so her account is pretty spotty, too. Apparently, lots of people jumped in, including the fully-dressed, shoes and all, security guard from our resort. Soon, they had Mike near shore, crawling through shallow waters as his legs had long since given out. Once out of danger, he collapsed at the water’s edge. Right in front of sobbing Logan.
Elianna’s rescue followed and poor Allen’s was last. By then, he had been in the water long enough to swallow some and become hypothermic. He was taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance. They left Elianna with Logan and Mike, who had just regained some strength.
About this time, two things were occurring to me. 1: the ambulance sirens I was hearing were incredibly loud and 2: Mike is probably about done with this excursion, which is definitely taking longer than expected. Then I saw them coming over the walking bridge, sans Allen. At the same time, Beach Patrol raised the red “No Swimming” flag.
The story goes on because we had to take Elianna to her grandparents, who didn’t know us from Adam. Her grandma opened the door, in her bra, and stood there, unabashed, while we very carefully and unavoidably scared her to death. Elianna burst back into tears, Logan was still weepy, Mike explaining with his chest burning and beyond exhausted and Finn and Riley gasped in total shock at the story AND the grandma in the bra.
Allen turned out to be fine. He called and left a tearful message of gratitude later that night, thanking Mike for keeping Elianna safe until more help arrived. We spent all day Monday with them, too, both men reliving their near death experience and several rescuers stopping by to say “hello”.
While I wouldn’t ever want to relive this and I know Mike wouldn’t either, it sure makes us feel grateful. And helps us to remember not to sweat the small stuff. And serves as a reminder that there are good people out there when you need them. Lots of them. Just waiting to dive in headfirst to save you, no matter how strong you are.