By Outer Banks Voice on November 23, 2020
If only we had a hint when our moment of reckoning is to arrive. If we had an inkling of what our season of distress may be, we could prepare to meet it. But as Mary Schmich once wrote, “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” Or in my case, Sunday.
My son and I were swimming in the ocean like we had been doing the entire summer. It was probably our last opportunity to do so before the season changed. Being recent transplants from Minnesota, we knew very little about rip currents. As we attempted to swim back toward shore, we realized we were making no headway. My 10-year-old son began to struggle against the waves, and I knew we were in trouble. No attempts to swim down the shore in either direction were yielding any results — and panic started to set in.
After prayers and calls for help, we started to settle into a rhythm, but we had been treading water in choppy waves for a half hour with no progress and no apparent help on the way. I cannot express the despair I felt as a parent realizing I may be unable to save my son from drowning. My wife and two other children were watching all this unfold from the shore.
About 40 minutes into the struggle, (judging by the 911 call time by my wife) Mrs. Valerie Streiff pulled onto the beach with her truck, kicked off her boots, shrugged off her uniform jacket, grabbed a life jacket and flotation device and jumped into the surf toward us. My sense of relief was energizing, and hope renewed.
With my son riding the flotation device, we were able to renew efforts and finally broke free of the current and made it to shore with rubbery legs and grateful steps.
Without a doubt, Mrs. Valerie Streiff is a certified American hero. That morning, she had run six miles before starting her shift for the park service. She had the skills and equipment prepared to be in the right place at the moment of need. She did not hesitate to act outside of the requirements of her job. There were others on the shore that day. Many of whom, no doubt, genuinely wished they could do something. Only one made it into the water to help.
I am forever grateful to her and for her preparation. I remind my kids of her heroism multiple times each week since then. We have purchased a throwable buoy on a line for each beach trip. We’ve studied how to spot rip currents. We aim to be more prepared in case someone else is in need as we were. We aim to be more like Valerie.
There are those who make a lot of noise about fixing the world we live in. And then there are those robust, red-blooded Americans who roll up their sleeves and put in the work to truly fix it. They pack flotation devices in the truck and renew their CPR certification and first aid skills and run in the morning to stay in shape and don’t sit on the shore waiting for someone else whose job description more closely matches the need.
This Thursday when my family and I sit around the table and express what we’re thankful for, you can be assured that we will all mention Mrs. Valerie Streiff. Valerie, if you ever read this, you and your family are always welcome at our home and I hope to still drop off that six pack I owe you. Thank you for saving me and my son.