04 Dec Meet: Zachary & His Hero
The moment he was brought home, wrapped in towels, and cold to the core was a moment I will never forget.
Zachary was surrounded by neighborhood children that were helping him walk his frozen body home. I opened the door to see his tear stained face and listening to his sobs, “I am so sorry. I was so stupid. I am so sorry. My curiosity got the best of me. I am so sorry.” It was like the entire sky broke into a million shards of glass and came crashing down around me.
My greatest fear was realized. Our sweet child had not heeded 6 years of warnings to stay off of a frozen pond. He followed friends onto the ice. They were fine. He fell through! Our child fell through the ice on a frozen pond!
My friend Jobie was visiting that day. She was very methodical in helping me undress Zachary to get him out of his winter gear so I could get him in the shower and start warming up his body temperature. Once he was upstairs in the shower I collapsed and became hysterical for the next 45 minutes.
I am so thankful she was there, as I was only able to maintain my composure for a few moments, before every fear, every ounce of gratitude, and every feeling one could possibly feel burst forth from withi—and I could no longer stand.
When bits and pieces of the horrific story come out over time we all realize how truly miraculous it is that he is still with us. Falling through ice, unable to touch, treading water and then swimming 20 feet to the bank of the pond, punching the ice the entire way to make a path for himself, all the while carrying the weight of layers upon layers of snow clothes and boots saturated in icy/frigid waters, hearing his friends cry behind him, his survival is miraculous.
Our child who has low-tone, where endurance, stamina, and strength isn’t a strength, was able to have the presence of mind to solve this awful problem he found himself in, during those terrifying moments. His head never submerged, AND IT SHOULD HAVE! There is no reason it didn’t. It’s a miracle from Jesus.
We continue to talk about what happened.
Continue to try and help Zachary work through his fear and shame. A few have minimized what happened. That’s painful for us, as we were the ones that could have lost our son that day. Although, we know the horror of that day through our eyes as parents, grandparents, family, and friends, one of my oldest and beloved friends wrote this to me about Zachary:
“No one but Zachary, in that moment, had the intense experience of feeling as if their own time might now be here. Fewer children than we realize actually ever experience this. Most of us do horribly dangerous crap, but we walk away not realizing the danger that we escaped. The adults all freak out and we are wondering what is wrong with them. Why they do that. For Zachary, this experience was totally different. He likely saw the terror and fear on everyone’s faces, felt the weight of his clothing, the breathlessness and stiffness from the cold. And within all of that, he was completely alone. No one else was experiencing what he was, no one else was fearing for their lives. It was him and only him out there. And only him who was going to have to find whatever it was that he needed to save himself. What a heavy heavy weight for him to carry at such a young age. What an extreme moment of loneliness, if only for a minute.”
When Zachary was interviewed after the accident, the reporter asked him what he was thinking in that moment he heard the crack of the ice and knew he was going to fall through. Zachary said, “I just thought ‘I need to get out of here or I am going to die.’”
But he didn’t die. He is still with us. And we are forever grateful. However, I vividly remember after the paramedics left, and Zachary was waiting for the pediatrician to clear him to come home, I texted Lisa Armitage from Goldfish Swim School and just told her that because she took a risk and moved her family and her entire life to Columbus to open a Goldfish Swim School, our son was still alive.
After years of failed attempts at swim lessons, there was something about the way Goldfish taught that clicked with our son. Because of Goldfish, their approach to water safety first, and then skills, our son is alive! He knew because of what he had been taught that he needed to find the best way out of the water. In an emergency he was able to keep the presence of mind to find the best way out of the wate, because he had practiced this time and time again.
How can we ever say thank you enough?
I know we will never be able to say thank you enough. What we can do is continue to talk about water safety. Continue to encourage parents and children to be prepared for any situation. And continue to teach others that water safety isn’t just about pools and beaches in the summer time. There are retention ponds throughout many neighborhoods in Columbus. So often we see kids playing hockey on what they assume to be thick ice on these ponds. The reality is…there is no way to know if it is safe or not. So we need to assume with these ponds that it ISN’T safe. No child is worth the risk.
Take it from a parent whose heart was broken into a million pieces and has finally overcome the recurrent nightmares that came from that dreaded day. Be safe. Be prepared. And now Zachary is safe. He is prepared. He is also empowered, knowing that by sharing his story he is helping to save lives.