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December 05, 2013: East bay heroes with abilities!. Thomas M. Thornburgh

ABOUT a month ago, you may have heard a story about a girl who was saved from drowning at the beach by some guys. Well, I was lucky enough to see the whole ordeal as it went down.
It was a warm and sunny Saturday, and I was called to the beach to swim with my pale-skinned buddies who all have disabilities. One of them has a traumatic brain injury, one with emotional trauma, and yet another with a spinal injury that almost left him paralyzed from the neck down.
It is also however, the usual tendency, that beer finds its way naturally into activities with the brothers. By the way, alcoholism is also a protected disability only when you are actively seeking out rehabilitation.
Well, being the heroes that they are, when I told them I was writing this piece, they asked that their names remain anonymous, so let’s call them Bucky, Uno Mamis, and Yon-Mon. The beach is on the east side of the island, so that gives you an idea of the cliffy terrain that exists on that side of Saipan.
I was trying to find my way to them to celebrate a birthday for one of them who was turning 47. While searching, I ran into a police vehicle with a policeman who asked if I knew who had made a “distress” call to 911. I could not answer that question, so I just told him that I was looking for my friends, but that I was having a hard time finding them. He then chose to go on further into the jungle.
Just then I got a call back from Bucky who explained that he had been helping a girl swim for the past hour and a half so that she would not drown. He had left his phone on land so he missed my call.
I told him about the cop I just met and he told me to follow the cop as he was probably going to where they were. I immediately turned around and followed the cop. We weaved and dodged pot holes and punched through some foliage to a clearing where I recognized the vehicles parked. I saw the police vehicle and proceeded down to the shoreline following the policeman.
It seemed like a scene out of a Hollywood movie. The sun was just setting and I looked over a small cliff line where I saw my friends, Uno Mamis, Bucky and Yon-Mon floating by a heavy set island girl that seemed very tired as she was gripping onto a makeshift ladder on the rocks that made up the cliff line. I remember thinking this person is not going to be able to get up the 10 foot cliff without help. She was larger than any of the boys, so they could not just pick her up, plus she had been swimming in place for so long that she looked exhausted. I saw that my friends were bleeding because they had been helping her remain afloat and protecting her from the rocks by taking turns pinning themselves between her and the rocks when the big waves came. I also thought that the water was deep enough for a shark to attack them at any moment. Also, it was twilight, and sea creatures, including sharks, like to hunt at this time.
The policeman asked for a rope, and the birthday boy, Uno Mamis, had one in his car. They brought that out and wrapped it around the girl’s underarms with the help of those in the water with her. Then with help from the people up top, and the encouragement of those with her in the water, a coordinated effort ensued with folks pulling and others pushing. Her body finally got out of the water completely, but that added weight to the load and those on top could not pull her up any further. Those in the water were too low now to push her up. So for a moment we all just watched in utter amazement while holding our collective breath and hoping she did not go back down into the water.
This is when the policeman had to talk to the girl to get her to begin a last ditch effort to pull herself out with the help of those up top. She struggled, but to her credit, she clung on with both hands unto this rubber tire ladder that was fashioned by Bucky and Yon-Mon a day earlier without any supervision. She then lunged and others pulled, she began to slowly move upward again, and with continued support through words of encouragement by those around her, she continued to ease upward until she hit a lip on the cliff line. This is when others were able to hold her extended hands and with one great combined effort, she was finally pulled to safety!
We all shared a collective sigh of relief. Applaud then followed momentarily. The girl made a statement to the policeman, and then she began to thank her rescuers with a genuine smile on her face. As her rescuers, my buddies, emerged from the water, we saw just how cut and scratched up they were.
I applauded them, but they, breathing heavily, just looked at me and gave me the universal sign for a cold can of beer by extending their weary hands forward, as if they had a beer already. With sheer exhaustion on their faces, they took their first drink and finally started the birthday celebration. So, as I stood there and admired just how lucky I am to have friends that would jump into dangerous waters to save a person they did not even know, I also thought to myself that having a disability does not mean without abilities. People with disabilities can be Heroes too!
Happy Thanksgiving to my buddies, the east bay heroes with abilities! Saipan is a safer place because of you guys! Happy holidays everyone!
For more on disabilities, please contact the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems Inc. at www.nmpasi.org or call us at 235-7273 or 4, fax us at 235-7275 or TTY at 235-7278.