by Kent Sterling
IU wide receiver Isaac Griffith was pulled into the open water late Monday afternoon by a rip current near Sarasota, Florida, and nearly drowned.
Still in a medically induced coma, Griffith had a good night, according to his father’s Twitter feed, “Good morning Ike had a positive night but we have some more little battles in front of us today. We know this is a Marathon not a Sprint! Ike has won these little battles along the way. We continue to ask for prayers for Ike for these #LittleBattles #PrayForIke #iufb.”
The ocean looks like such fun, especially when the waves crest a little bit. We forget more than 3,500 Americans die each year from accidental drownings – the fifth ranked cause of unintentional injury death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One of the oft cited tips for swimming is to employ the buddy system, and that is what saved Griffith. He and friend Mitch McCune were sucked away from shore by the rip current, and McCune was able to bring the unconscious Griffith to shore and perform CPR until paramedics arrived.
Griffith remains on a ventilator to help him breathe, but has progressed through the 36 hours since the incident.
It’s easy to see the ocean or lake as a harmless playground, but it can be dangerous and unpredictable – even close to shore. Rip currents can occur when waves break causing an uneven distribution of water or when sand bars dissolve. They are hard to see, and impossible to swim against.
When caught in a rip current, it’s recommended that swimmers move parallel to the shore. Currents tend to be narrow channels, and sometimes it is only necessary to swim a few feet to escape their pull.
During a vacation in Orange Beach, Alabama, I was one of the stereotypically arrogant swimmers who thought nothing bad could happen while body surfing with my son. It was just after 9 a.m., and there were no lifeguards on duty. My wife pointed out the warning flags, and I dismissed them. How dumb would I have to be to drown in waist deep water?
Ryan and I hit the water, and played happily in the waves. He was old enough to fend for himself, and so I suggested we head out a little deeper where the waves were breaking, and he declined. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now when he declines an invitation, I trust his impulse.
In chest deep water, I rode a wave, but somehow wound up farther from shore. It happened another two or three times before I noticed that I was a good 100 yards farther out than Ryan. The water was now 10 feet deep, and the waves crashed over the top of me every few seconds. I managed to time my ascensions to the surface between waves to continue to breathe.
As I popped up the last time, I saw Ryan with his back to me signaling to my wife that I was gone and that they should help. Julie correctly kept Ryan from looking for me. A wave thundered down on my head, and time slowed down. I thought, “So this is it? Honest to Christ, my corpse is going to be fished out of the ocean in front of my wife and son, and this is what I’m going to be remembered for?”
I recalled the advice to swim parallel to the shore, but I was gassed. I figured I had one good fight in me, so the pause between waves I surfaced, and began thrashing directly toward shore. If I was going to die in the ocean, it wasn’t going to be because I played by the rules, escaped the current, and drowned in calm but deep water.
Somehow, I eventually escaped the rip current, and swam to waist deep water before collapsing. My son was relieved, and my wife was angry. The anger turned quickly to sympathy when she saw that my face and body were gray.
Life does us a favor when we are able to learn from mistakes without a severe penalty, and other than a day of severe muscle fatigue, I was off the hook.
Prayers and good thoughts for Griffith and his family as he deals with severe consequences of feeling immortal in the water.