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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Lifeguard (11/09/06)

TITLE: Transkei Tragedy
By Corinne Smelker


With the sound of waves battering the rocks relentlessly, I could imagine a never-ending argument for dominance between land and salt. But I felt safe, wading through rock pools seeking cowries, my favorite shells.

“Harsh, rugged, wild,” didn’t even begin to describe the latest place my parents had taken refuge for their annual pilgrimage. The campground was 20 minutes from the nearest hotel and the closest town was 40 minutes. “Just the way I like it,” proclaimed my Dad. I was less sure.

So intently was I gazing into rock pools it took me a minute to realize the change in sounds. Added to the anger of the waves was a muffled yelling. I popped my head above the rocks and peered out. In the distance, in the foam that was the fall-out between wave and rock, I could see a boy struggling. What is he doing in the water? The lifeguards aren’t here. Jan was my favorite, a lanky, dark-haired college student who always had a kind word for me. There were only a handful of swimmers at any given time at this remote location, so to me he was the perfect lifeguard – laid back and relaxed. Made me want to be a lifeguard as I watched him day in and day out.

I was jolted back to reality as I saw an older man plunging into the waves after the boy. His dad! I had seen him on the beach the day before – they had arrived a couple of days ago. Mom must still be up at the tent.

I was riveted to my spot – I don’t think I could have moved for anything. Hidden as I was behind the outcropping I watched the drama unfold before me. Dad was screaming for his son, son was going under, and spluttering, trying to maintain momentum, but the under-current was bearing him ever closer to the rocks. Dad reached the boy and slowly, with all his might, fought the current all the way in an attempt to regain ground. Don’t fight the current, formed in my throat, but died on my lips. Dad always says, don’t fight the current. My father had been an Olympic swimmer, he knew everything about swimming, but I couldn’t even yell.

Just as it looked as if father and son were safe, a huge wave crashed them to the ocean floor. The boy resurfaced 5 feet further towards shore and for the first time could gain traction and waded towards the beach. But where was the Dad? Frantically I looked for him.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Jan and the other guard, I could never remember her name, taking their morning jog. Jan glanced over and then stopped abruptly. I could see him talking urgently to the youngster. Suddenly he stripped his jogging shirt off and ploughed against the strength of the waves, showing his own dominance over them. The other guard raced to the tower to fetch their gear, leaving the solitary youngster with arms wrapped around knees, keening.

The ocean exploded as Jan plunged up, hauling a limp body. Part of me wanted to move in and comfort the boy, but I was an observer to this vignette, unable to now participate.

It must have taken 5 eternal minutes for Jan and the blonde guard to pull the man from the ocean’s death grip. As they laid him on the golden sand, Jan picked up his walkie-talkie and I knew then that he was radioing the hospital. But that’s 90 minutes away!

Jan and the blonde set to work on the dad. The youngster wrung his hands, hopping up and down, screaming. I was torn, I was only 12; what could I do? Just as I resolved to move from my hidden recess, I saw Jan look at his counterpart and give a gentle shake of his head. She saw, and immediately wrapped her arms around the newly fatherless boy and bore him away.

Soon after she left, the beach ambulance tore its way across the pristine sand, siren bleating, awakening a slumbering world. As the man’s body was loaded into the back I finally broke down, keening in much the same way as the boy. Jan climbed into the ambulance and as they drove away I wondered whether he would ever be the same again. I knew I wouldn’t.

This is a true story, with no parts changed. I was the observer.

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This article has been read 1049 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ross11/18/06
How tragic! What a sight for a 12-year old's eyes. Your first-hand account of this scene frozen in time is well done. Thank you for sharing. I was sure the father would be revived and everyone would live happily ever after ... but life really isn't like that most of the time, is it. Thank you for reliving this memory and putting it into words. Well done! :)
Trina Courtenay11/18/06
Thanks for sharing this with us, how profoundly tragic and forever life changing. I know I would have been changed.
Jan Ackerson 11/20/06
Oh, wow--I felt as if I were there with you, observing every moment. The sights, sounds, smells--you have it all. Just so, so good.

I think--I may be wrong--that numbers under twenty are supposed to be spelled out rather than written as numerals...

This must have been hard for you to write--but what an awesome job you did! I'm bowled over.
Amy Michelle Wiley 11/20/06
Powerful story. I just had a minor quibble... in "the Dad" it should not be capitalized, since it's being used as a common noun and not as a name. Otherwise great job, very touching.
Donna Haug11/20/06
I cannot imagine witnessing that. You showed your emotions so clearly. My only question was concerning the first time you mentioned Jan. I had a hard time placing who he was until later. I still see the little observer 'keening' over what she saw. Awesome writing.
Joanne Sher 11/21/06
Oh, Cori. This is SO powerful and engaging and amazing. I was completely caught up in the description and the tale. Like others have said, this must have been SO hard to write - but I'm glad you did. I will remember this for a long time.
Allison Egley 11/21/06
Wow. I kept thinking the girl in this story was older and was wondering why she didn't do anything. I'm so sorry you had to see that. It reminds me of John 15:13 Greater love has no on than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (NASB)
Maxx .11/22/06
This si a tragic story .. all the more since it was true. Very difficult memory to share. But told with the proper dose of realism and intrest. Well done!
Shanti Singh11/23/06
Oh my. I'm sure this incident left an indelible mark on you. Thank you for the courage it took to write it.
Suzanne R11/23/06
A tragedy indeed..... How awful. I wonder if it could have been even more powerful if you included in the title something like 'Transkei Tragedy (A True Story)'. Well written.
Marilee Alvey11/23/06
Incredible drama. Somehow it has never seemed fair that a beautiful ocean can so irretrevably tear a person away, often never to be seen again. That's why it mentions in the Bible that the seas will be no more....because such sorrow came with them in the old days....and still does, to this day, even though we are so more advanced and have more warnings of upcoming storms. Your talent has been showcased in a vignet that, praise God, you were able to express. Thank you for going back to that painful, poignant memory.