If you were at the beach with your family, you’d probably keep a close eye on your kids. You know the water is unpredictable and the tides are strong.
The beach is a wonderful place to vacation because of the sand, sun and ocean, but it’s also invigorating because every time you step into the surf, to some degree you invite risk.
Even the most watchful parents know that they can’t always have their eyes on their children, and some of the most loving and caring parents have experienced the travesties that can take place in those brief moments.
One mother at Sabaudia Beach in Italy almost experienced that kind of loss when her 10-year-old daughter was swept out to sea. Unable to fight the violent current, the young girl screamed as she slipped under the waves.
The mom may have seen and not known what to do, or she might have missed the whole thing, but fortunately for everyone someone else was paying attention.
Valerio Catoia, a 17-year-old young man, saw the 10-year-old, as well as a 14-year-old, being dragged into the maw of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The two screamed for help, and he immediately answered the call.
Catoia’s father tore across the beach with his son, setting his sights on rescuing the older girl. The two plunged into the sea after the victims long before the life guards at a nearby station even got closer.
In most cases, it would be unwise for a bystander to take off after someone caught in a current because they risk themselves, too, in the process. It’s generally best to leave the rescuing to the professionals.
But the younger girl was not going to last long, and kept dipping under the water. And Catoia was no ordinary beach-goer; the young man had been swimming since he was 3 years old and regularly competed — and medaled — in the Special Olympics.
Catoia was also armed with the knowledge he’d gleaned from a first-aid course, and it came in handy when he carried the girl out of the sea, making sure to support her and keep her from inhaling seawater.
In the strangest turn of events, the girl’s mother snatched the 10-year-old away without any acknowledgement of Catoia’s efforts. According to the Republic, the young man who had just saved her daughter, was absolutely snubbed by what should have been a grateful mother.
But fortunately there were others who made sure that Catoia knew what a wonderful thing he’d done. The former prime minister, Matteo Renzi, asserted that Italy should be proud of such bravery.
Italian Sports Minister Lucca Lotti presented Catoia with the “Solidarity Champion of Italy” award, giving him a medal and a commemorative plate to really drive the point home.
As for Catoia, he’s just looking forward to school and training starting up again, and says that even though the attitudes of the people around him have changed, he’s just the same person he always was — of course, now we know that person to be a true hero.