By Rick Wildman
La Jolla residentWhile decorating the Rec Center Christmas Tree, Jim Poirier invited me to join the “Dawn Patrol” for the annual Thanksgiving Day swim at the Cove. At 8:30 a.m. the surf was heavy with a 7-foot high tide, strong current and 59-degree waters. Not to worry. Even in a thin wetsuit and heavy surf I had swum out to the quarter-mile buoy many times. I eagerly raced to beat the next high wave. Within about three minutes I was fighting a strong current 100 yards from the shore. Just past the rocks the next wave was cresting.
Suddenly, I was gasping for breath. No big deal, I thought. Then the cold hit, followed by the big wave. I was hyperventilating. My heart was pounding. I was quickly losing strength. I stopped to rest. I could barely tread water. I was gasping for breath when my swim buddy, attorney Bruce Beach, asked me, “How are you?”
I replied, “Not good.”
He asked, “Do you want me to bring you in?”
I was in real trouble. I said, “Yes.”
My friends onshore said that I was as stiff as a board, dead weight in the water. Dick Russell and another swimmer helped Bruce haul me the last few yards to the wall where the surf stopped. The whole experience took less than 10 minutes. My friends told me that I was white as a sheet for an hour. My speech was slurred. Bruce later told me that while he was dragging me in he could hear my heart beating over the noise of the surf.
I am alive because I swam with my friends — not alone. I took a foolish risk. I was not prepared for the cold, rough water. Don’t make the same mistake. Hypothermia can happen fast. If you become disoriented and pass out you can suck water into your lungs. Then you can quickly sink to the bottom. Never hesitate to ask for help. I am here today because Bruce (an attorney like me) and my friends saved my life: The ultimate professional courtesy. I hope that your La Jolla Thanksgiving was as happy as mine turned out to be. Thanks friends!