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How To Save A Life

My friend Thomas Cantrell went to a few weeks ago and left with a tan and a life lesson on how to save a life.

Thomas saved the life of a young woman who was drowning. He also saved her dad, who was trying to rescue her and got into trouble himself.

I asked Thomas what he attributed his courage and lifesaving skills to, and he said that everything he learned about rescues he learned when he was a teenager.

60 years later, it all came back in a flash.

At 76, Thomas was the oldest person on the beach.

Thomas said, “We never know what preparation is getting us ready for. Something I had as a kid seemed like something I'd likely never use. Why? Because no one drowns on the college swim team – they just get yelled at by the coach.

But 60 years later, it mattered.

Maybe whatever we're learning today might also seem indulgent and might not do us a dang bit of good for the next 20 or 30 years, but then something unexpected happens, and it becomes the most valuable thing we know.

I was on the beach with my family. My wife was taking a nap, and I was going over to check on her when I noticed somebody about a hundred yards offshore, out where the waves were breaking. Something just looked wrong. I didn't know what the problem was; I didn't even think about it; I just raced to the water.

I wasn't 76 years old when I splashed into the ocean. I was 20 again. I'd been swimming all day already, and I'd been out past the breakers at least three different times, so I should have been worn out. But I wasn't, and it wasn't because of adrenaline. I know adrenaline. I'm dealing with adrenaline right now, telling you this story. Adrenaline makes you shaky, but I was calm as I could be.

I had been trained to dive and swim when I took lifeguard training as a kid. I knew that when you dive in, you never let your head go under the water. You always keep your eyes on the person you're trying to rescue.

How To Save A Life

When I hit the water, I saw that somebody else was swimming towards her too. He was already about fifty yards from her, and I was three times as far. But when I heard her scream, I knew this was serious and sped up. I got to her just after the other guy got there, and she already had him in a neck lock, and they were both going under.

He gasped, “Go for help.”

I said, “I am help. You go.”

I don't know if he threw her at me or if she just came toward me in a panic. But the next thing I knew, she wrapped her arms around me like a vise and tried to climb on top of me to save herself from drowning.

I knew exactly what to do. I dove straight down underwater.

When you're in this situation, you force yourself down under the surface, and they'll let you go because they're trying to get air, and you disappear beneath them.

Then I came up behind her and grabbed her by the hips. You don't hold their back, body, or legs. Hips are the one part that will rotate the entire body. I grabbed her hips and turned her towards the beach. I came up behind her, took a breath, and started talking.

“Look at the beach. Look at your dad. Look over there. Look at all the people. Keep going. You'll be fine.”

Everything I told her was constructive. I told her what to do, not what not to do.

“A wave is coming up behind us, and it will help us. Just keep looking at the beach.”

I could feel the trough in front of the big wave that was bearing down on us. And I knew that the wave was about to hit us. And that's a good thing because right after the wave hits, you can 30 yards with three good kicks.

And then you wait for the next wave. You don't try to move forward, you don't struggle; you just wait.

I told her, “Keep looking at the beach. Keep looking at your dad. God is here to help us. The waves are here to help us. The ocean is your friend. Let's have fun.”

When we were about 30 yards from the beach, we saw people wading out to help us. They were coming out with the rescue surfboards they'd grabbed from stand.

They brought two, but she wouldn't leave me to climb on one alone, so we both grabbed mine and paddled to the shore.”

I asked Thomas what he had learned from this experience.

He told me there were two big lessons:

First, “Preparation sets you .” Even though Thomas hadn't done lifeguard training in over 50 or 60 years, it all came back to him when he needed it most.

Second, he said, “Always focus on the positive. Make sure you say what is, not what isn't. Tell people what not to do; that's what they'll hear; and they will do exactly what you tell them not to do.

Tell people what to do, and they'll do it.

And you might just save a life.”

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