Calif. teen honored for beach rescue

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel

LOS GATOS, Calif. — Bodyboarder Adrian Lemke was riding a good wave at Carmel Beach — "just out in the water having fun," as the 14-year-old put it — when he glanced up at the shore to see his mother pointing at a surfer in distress about 100 feet away.

Lemke, who has been a member of Santa Cruz Junior Guards since he was 6, didn't hesitate. His quick action in the June 25 rescue is credited with helping save the life of 51-year-old Tim Gruber, an Aptos man renowned as a three-time NCAA All-American distance runner.

When Lemke reached him, Gruber, who was floating on his back, had turned a purplish-blue color. Lemke felt for a pulse but found none.

A 14-year-old friend of the surfer's family, who had swum from shore, helped Lemke pull the 235-pound man toward the beach. A trained lifeguard visiting from Hawaii and a trauma nurse from Sacramento County and her boyfriend — all of whom just happened to be on the beach that day — performed resuscitation for several minutes before paramedics arrived.

For his role in the rescue, Lemke, will be honored by the Santa Cruz City Council at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at the council chambers, 809 Center St.

Gruber was released from the hospital two weeks ago and is undergoing physical therapy. He plans to join the chorus of praise for Lemke tonight.

"It was absolutely heroic," said Gruber, who lives in Aptos. "Most 14-year-old boys don't have an attention span. If it's not a Game Boy or movie or something, most of them don't look the other way. To have two of them take action, not knowing what they're jumping into, to me is just remarkable."

In fact, it is remarkable how so many pieces fell into place to save Gruber, who had fallen off his board and slammed his neck into the ground in a shallow area. It was one of those days where nothing really seemed to be an accident at all.

Gruber has since talked to or met all of the bystanders involved in the rescue, including the quiet and humble Lemke, whom Gruber met during a recent Junior Guards class. He gave the teen a gift card to buy running gear and thanked him immensely.

"I said, 'I just don't know how to thank you,'" Gruber recalled. "'You're a hero. You're a blessing in my life.'"

Lemke is quick to point to all of the people who played a part, and credited his training as a junior lifeguard for giving him the endurance to help pull Gruber to safety.

"It helps build confidence in the water," Lemke said, explaining why he's participated in Junior Guards nearly half his life. He said the Parks and Recreation program offers friendships and "helps keep me fit for track and cross country." Like Gruber, Lemke is a runner.

Lemke told instructor Gigi Goldeen, a lifeguard with the Santa Cruz Fire Department, a few details about the rescue, but the coach didn't understand how much the teen had done until Gruber's wife, who tracked down all those involved, filled her in later.

"At first I thought, 'How could someone at his age be involved with such a life-changing situation?' '' she said. "But I kind of expected it because he is more together than a lot of kids, quiet and humble and very aware of what's going on around him."

Lemke, who placed ninth in distance running at the state Junior Guard competition last week and in the top third in the 2010 Junior Olympics, was visiting the Carmel beach that day with parents Pat and Gil. The family lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Highway 9 and Skyline Road; Lemke will enter Los Gatos High in the fall.

Pat Lemke spotted Gruber in distress, called 911 from her cellphone, and signaled to her son in the water and 14-year-old Ryan Coke, a Gruber family friend, who was sitting on the beach.

"As soon as I saw he was floating on his back, I said, 'That surfer is in trouble,'" said Pat Lemke, whose eyes water as she tells the story. "It was emotional, it still is."

After the boys pulled Gruber to land, trauma nurse Carolyn Cords and boyfriend Joe Bozzie, who were in Monterey County to celebrate her 50th birthday, ran up to the scene and began CPR and clearing his airway. As Bozzie did compressions on Gruber's chest, Cords did rescue breaths and eventually shocked him with a defibrillator.

"If he hadn't gotten to him, we wouldn't have been able to help him," Cords said of Lemke. "He did not have a pulse. He was not breathing."

Well-known bodyboarder and trained lifeguard Haouli Reeves, visiting from Hawaii with his children, also joined the effort. As Gruber tells it, Reeves and his children had taken a wrong turn on a road trip up the coast from Los Angeles, and on a whim decided to do some bodyboarding on the beach.

Gruber, who is receiving outpatient therapy and hopes to get his neck brace off today, counts all of it as a miracle.

The human resources manager for Granite Construction intentionally fell over backward at the end of his final wave, as he routinely does, but didn't realize he was near a sand bar and the water beneath him was shallow. As his consciousness drifted away after landing on his neck, Gruber kicked his feet trying to get upright, swallowed a bunch of water and prayed that God would allow him to see his wife and 15-year-old son, Brandon, who has Down syndrome.

"Everything just went dark and quiet," he said. "I don't remember until I was in the paramedic truck."

Gruber suffered a C5 spinal injury, but didn't break his neck. He is still struggling to regain full motor skills, and once recovered, wants to start a nonprofit for special-needs children like his son as a way to give back for his own second chance.

"I'm confident we'll get as close to 100 percent as possible," he said. "I've made huge progress."

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