by Mike David
In the summer of 1990, my friends and I spent time at the Ulm bridge in tiny Ulm, Montana. Ulm is about 10 miles outside of Great Falls and anyone who has lived in Montana for any length of time will tell you that summer can be very hot. The Ulm bridge and surrounding water of the Missouri river provided much relief to teenagers, swimming under the bridge and playing football in a large shallow area next to the bridge.
While playing football with my classmate and casual friend Zack Wilcox, about a dozen guys heard yells for help over near the bridge. A high school girl who couldn’t swim had been dragged by the current and was hanging on to the bridge footing.
The water was easily 30 feet deep and the girl, Tiffany, was crying as her friends and sister yelled. All the boys ran towards the edge of the deep water and promptly stopped.
That is, everyone except Zack and I. I couldn’t say what I was thinking, having no formal water rescue training, but I knew I needed to help. Unbeknownst to me, Zack was a certified lifeguard.
We both swam as fast as we could towards Tiffany, about 20-25 yards away. Swimming that hard for that long a distance was a grueling challenge after water football, but we made it to Tiffany before she went under.
Tiffany was visibly shaken and upset, having held herself up using the gritty, rough concrete of the bridge footing. Zack and I each took an arm and made her kick her legs as we made our way back to the bridge. I was completely gassed, actually thought I wouldn’t make it, and stopped to tread water to catch my breath, but not Zack. Zack was swimming so hard he actually began pulling both Tiffany and I. I was re-energized by Zack’s determination and began swimming hard again as well.
After towing Tiffany 35 feet to the shore I collapsed on the sand as Tiffany cried and her older sister hugged her. Zack made sure she was OK and swam back to the football game. After a few minutes rest, I rejoined the game and gave Zack an “atta boy” for rescuing Tiffany. Like any humble person, Zack said it was a team effort and we both did a good job.
I think about this moment occasionally. Since then, I’ve grown up and helped many people. Deep down, I suspect this event set me on a path of looking out for others versus watching from the sidelines when help was needed. Zack showed me what courage and preparedness are all about.