June 4 was a perfect almost-summer Saturday on Coronado’s Gator Beach, a section of the shore in front of Coronado’s Naval Amphibious Base. Gator Beach is owned by the U.S. Navy, and thus it is not patrolled by lifeguards.
Two friends, Grace Morgan (12) and Isabelle Heinken (12), were swimming together in the surf. They met in Coronado a few years ago, and they are both 6th Graders at Coronado Middle School. “We met each other at school,” says Grace, “and then we started seeing each other at church and sometimes I would see her at the beach, and then our dads became friends. And now we’re best friends!”
At Gator Beach that Saturday, both girls could feel the riptide pulling them into deeper water. “We were out swimming, and then we tried to swim in because there was a little bit of a riptide that we could feel,” says Grace.
Just then, says Isabelle, “we heard a little kid screaming.” He was past the surf, and so a riptide had pulled him out. “I could see the waves going over him,” says Isabelle, “He looked like he was getting tired and swallowing water. He was past the surf zone, and no one was near him.” The girls guess that the boy was between five and six years old.
“We could hear him yelling, ‘Help! Help!’ ” added Grace. “We didn’t know if it was the best decision [to rescue him] because we were getting pulled out too.”
Quickly the two girls made a plan. Grace’s dad, a Navy SEAL, had trained the girls earlier this year on how to rescue a drowning victim in a pool. They were familiar with the techniques they needed to save the boy.
“If [the swimmer is] passed out, you pull them by their hair (because it won’t hurt them), or put your arms under their armpits and pull them,” explained Isabelle. Their plan was for Isabelle to swim out and grab the boy, and then “Grace was going to walk out, grab our hands, and pull us in, and then we would switch. But that was too hard because he kept trying to grab onto us. He would just scream if we let go of him. And we couldn’t touch the ground either, so it was pretty hard for us too.”
“We grabbed him and tried to pull him and it was really difficult at first,” agrees Grace. The girls kept hold of the boy and swam together. Eventually, “Isabelle went forward, and we found an area where we could touch [the bottom]. We held onto him because every time we let go he would start yelling.”
When they reached knee-deep water, the boy’s mother met them. “His mother ran out to us and grabbed him and hugged him!” says Isabelle. The mother thanked the girls over and over, but she declined to give her name.
The two girls are both just finishing 6th Grade at Coronado Middle School. Isabelle’s other hobbies include surfing and riding horses, and she says, “I like to get all my energy out outside with my friends!” She has lived in Coronado for four years. Grace, meanwhile, enjoys surfing, gymnastics, and tennis, and she is a black belt in taekwondo.
When asked how they became such good swimmers, Grace says that she has grown up in Coronado, so she’s familiar with the water and surf. Isabelle grew up in Hawaii and Coronado, and she spends a lot of time in Australia, so she also is confident in the ocean. Their strong swimming skills may have saved a life this past Saturday. Well done, Grace and Isabelle!