A man who used his kayak to help rescue a child who had blown away on an inflatable while on Lake Winnipeg says that two unknown heroes risked everything to prevent a tragedy over the weekend.
Blake Morden was enjoying a peaceful afternoon at his cottage at Grand Beach on Saturday when an acquaintance, Aaron, came to tell him that two children on an inflatable had started to get pushed out on the lake in heavy winds.
"I didn't waste any time," Morden says upon hearing the news, "and luckily my kayak was out there already so we raced down there together. Aaron helped me carry my kayak across the rocks so we didn't have to launch from the beach; we launched from the point across the rocky surface there and so I had a bit of a head start to catch them, but they were already a long ways away."
"There's a man up to up to his neck in the water looking at me."
There's a reason Lake Winnipeg is known to Manitobans as "Big Windy" and on this day it was living up to that nickname. Morden had already spent three and a half hours out in his kayak that day so he was already drained of energy. "I went out with a quarter tank of gas in me," he says. Even worse, he was now having to battle the wind and large waves far from shore, instead of the slightly calmer waters he had been in near the shoreline earlier in the day.
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When he finally was able to reach the two people on the inflatable he made two discoveries. First, it was a man and a child, not the two children he was expecting. Second, the young girl was already in poor condition. Morden was left making split-second decisions.
"I'm an ex-lifeguard and I have been in this situation unfortunately many times before," says Morden. "This is not my first rescue and not my first water rescue and not my first dangerous situation. So the one thing that you do is called situational awareness. And when I took a peek at the kid I see she is just a small girl. She's very skinny and by this time she is very blue. She was crying and telling me she was cold and scared so I just told her I would save her and I turned to the man in the water; I was not expecting to see an adult. I was expecting to see two kids and there's a man up to up to his neck in the water looking at me."
"And then she stopped crying."
Morden says that pulling anything with a kayak is virtually impossible, never mind fighting the heavy winds on Lake Winnipeg. For that reason he thought he was left with a horrible decision - he would have to leave the man, whom he believed to be the child's father, to save the girl. Any other decision would put all three of their lives at risk.
"I threw a rope at him and told him 'Don't tie on.' I said 'I'll save your daughter, but don't tie on,' and he just looked at me and said 'I understand.'"
However, there was nowhere he could safely place the young girl, so instead, they tied on so that Jason could hold the girl for as long as possible.
Counting and singing back to shore
Morden says he still doesn't understand or fully remember how he made it back to shore with the two in tow. "I was so far from the beach and every time I looked up I was still so far; at least everybody looked like ants out there and I know from being experienced, connected pulling somebody in the water is almost impossible. I'm against 30-kilometre an hour wind with Big Windy out there." He says he started to count strokes so he could focus on the impossible task at hand, while Jason and the girl sang her favourite songs to keep her distracted, but she was extremely cold and crying at the same time.
"So I counted about 1,800 reps and then I could hear her stop crying or stop singing with Jason. They were singing her favourite song. And then she stopped crying."
That moment gave Morden good reason to begin to worry even more, and it also provided him with an extra burst of energy. "But it only lasted four or five minutes I feel like. But then, the next thing I know, I look up and we're almost there. I don't know how long it took, we got to shore and somehow I was still counting and I was at over 4,000 reps, but somewhere between 1,800 and 4,000 I just blacked out. I don't remember it at all." He fought through horrible leg cramps and back spasms as he paddled back.
"The real heroes" and a higher power at work
Morden is adamant that he did nothing heroic. In fact, he is riddled with guilt because he was prepared to leave Jason behind to save the young girl. He wants the story told because he wants people to know what Jason and a woman named Cynthia did. Cynthia had swum out earlier and was able to rescue one of the children and bring them back to shore, while Jason continued swimming out to reach the second child.
It was only when they arrived back at the shore that Morden learned Jason wasn't the father of the young girl. He was just a random stranger who was willing to give up his own life to save the girl.
"I said to him, 'You could have turned back at any time but you didn't,'" says Morden, "But he just looked at me and said, 'Nope, it was never an option.'"
All Morden knows about Jason and Cynthia is that they are both correctional officers. But he is hoping that they both get the recognition they deserve for their selfless act.
"Jason is the man we all need to be - he's the Canadian we all need to be right now. This is the kind of man we all need to have," says Morden.
Asked about paddling back with an adult and child in tow, Morden says he would never be able to do it again. "I couldn't. I couldn't do it again. Somebody, something, somehow, helped me do it. I'm not religious, I'm spiritual maybe, but not religious. But my mother sure has strong feelings about how those two people got back to shore."