by Colleen Gonzalez '14, Guilford Sports Information
Guilford College's cross country team thought it would enjoy a few restful hours at the North Carolina coast Sept. 8 following its meet the previous night at UNC Wilmington. Little did it know, however, that the team's day at the beach would turn into a rescue mission for one of its coaches and a student-athlete.
After competing at the UNC Wilmington Seahawk Invitational Friday, head cross country coach Danny Cash decided to keep the team overnight and enjoy some time at the beach the following day. The men's and women's teams made solid showings at the Friday night meet and junior transfer Andris Goncarovs ran the second-fastest five-kilometer time in school history (15:43:14). He took second in the 81-man field, just two-tenths of a second behind East Carolina University's Antonio Palmer.
Saturday morning's weather alternated between heavy rain and partly clear skies, but at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area near Kure Beach, N.C, the sky cleared as the dark clouds moved north. Due to storms off the coast, Guilford's coaches and students knew rip currents were a possibility. Cash joked to his team about calling on first-year Jamie Luckhaus and Goncarovs, both certified lifeguards, in case anyone needed help in the water.
Cash didn't anticipate that someone would actually need assistance that day. As the waves swelled to five feet and the current grew stronger, Cash's wife, assistant coach Kimberly Cash, instructed runners to head inland.
"We were in the water at the time, and the waves were pretty strong, and we just heard this guy yelling 'Help! Help!'" said Goncarovs. "Your instinct is to look around and see where it's coming from."
Cash, a former police officer, was closer to the man caught in a rip current, and swam 50-75 meters to him as he disappeared under the water.
"You have to make a conscious decision, when you get to the person, how you're going to handle the situation," she said.
Goncarovs swam over to assist and the pair executed what Cash called a "textbook, two-man rescue." The pair kept the man afloat, distributing his weight on both of them, and helped him closer to shore.
"He was scared stiff, literally," Cash recalled. "He's holding on to my hand and I'm telling him, 'You'll be fine, I'll keep you ahead' and telling him that I wasn't going anywhere."
Another runner on the team alerted nearby lifeguards and within a few minutes, they made it through the surging surf to reach the trio. The lifeguards threw the man a tow line and pulled him safely to shore. Once back on the beach, Cash continued to assist the man until the situation was finally under control.
Cash commended Goncarovs on his effort, especially after running a hard race the previous evening, an effort that netted Old Dominion Athletic Conference Runner of the Week honors.
"Thursday was our pool day and I remember seeing how strong of a swimmer he was and how confident he was in the water," she said.
Goncarovs in turn praised his coach for how she took charge of the situation. The pair remained calm throughout the ordeal, a trait Cash learned as an officer and Goncarovs as a lifeguard in his native Ithaca, N.Y.
"One of the best things that helped me on Saturday was the fact that in our (lifesaving) course they teach us to stay calm and think methodically, instead of panicking," he said.
Cash and Goncarovs also praised the team's attitude during the situation, as the students all stood ready to assist once everyone was back on the beach.
The man, a Wilmington, N.C., resident in his 20s named Terriq, was understandably shaken up, but Cash helped reassure him after the rescue.
"I made the analogy to him that it was almost like being hit by a car, you need to learn from it and not worry so much about it," she said.
"He was a little shaken up, but hopefully he'll get back in the water soon," said Goncarovs. "It's an unfortunate experience to have."
Later in the afternoon, the man and his family visited the Guilford pair and thanked them for their heroic effort.
"We did the Guilford thing," said Cash. "We were doing what we're supposed to do."