Matt Tomaszewski, his wife and their 17-month-old daughter were enjoying a pleasant Sunday afternoon at his parents’ beach house in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Located an hour outside of Boston, the day was shaping up to be a relaxing escape from the stress of city life.
Then came the screams for help.
Six people had become caught in a riptide and dragged 100 yards offshore. With no lifeguard on duty, Tomaszewski made a split-second decision to risk his own safety and try to help the strangers in peril. So he grabbed a paddleboard and raced out to reach the group before it was too late.
Three people had managed to latch onto a floating object and were making their way back in, but the other three were still struggling in the large waves. Once Tomaszewski reached the trio, one man was already unconscious and a married couple were fighting for survival.
"They looked exhausted," Tomaszewski told the Washington Post. "And they were in shock."
Despite the couple’s fear, they assisted their rescuer as he attempted to get the unconscious man onto the board. Unfortunately, their attempts to save the man were thwarted by a large set wave that crashed onto the group and knocked the lifeless man’s body back into the water. It was a scenario that few of us will ever face, but Tomaszewski understood time was not on his side and with more waves coming, he made a decision.
"I looked at [the couple] and said, 'If you want to survive, you need to grab this board,' " said Tomaszewski.
After getting them on the board, he pushed the man and woman into a wave that carried them towards shore and safety. When he turned to look for the other man, he had disappeared. In a matter of seconds, Tomaszewski’s selfless act had saved two lives but also put his own in peril.
"The toughest decision I ever had to make was trying to send those people in," he told the Post. "I really had to think about did I have enough energy to get back myself."
Thankfully, he did.
Tragically, two other people would not. The unconscious man Tomaszewski attempted to rescue and that man’s wife both perished in the incident. However, had it not been for his heroic and quick action, the death toll may very well have doubled.
Back on shore, Tomaszewski found that the couple he saved were actually friends of his parents, who had kids of their own.
"I found out later that he has three daughters. He's a father. And I'm a new father," Tomaszewski said. "It's amazing to help him get back to his children. It was amazing to tuck Chloe in that night."
While under normal circumstances we never recommend separating from your board and suggest you always wear a leash and PFD, this paddler’s actions likely prevented a family from being torn apart — a split-second decision of unquantifiable magnitude.