Climate Stories: What I Learned by Nearly Drowning
Tony Loyd nearly drowned. After what started as a bit of unexpected summertime fun turned dire, he found himself stranded and exhausted at the bottom of a lake, fighting for his life. Luckily, with some resilience on his part and the aid of a friend, he emerged from the depths alive – and ready to put his life to good use.
Tony joined us at our Climate Reality Leadership Corps training earlier this year in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota to tell the story of his near miss and how it made him want to dedicate his second chance to making a difference.
Watch the video below (or read Tony’s story in his own words) to hear how Tony’s experience changed his worldview.
“I’ll race you across the lake.”
And when Tom said this to me, it took me a second. I was so surprised that he was talking to me. And in my mind it should have made sense that he was talking to me, alright? I meant, he’s 16 and I’m 14, and we’re standing - I’m ankle deep in Lake Williamsville in Illinois, and the shore is straight in front of us. Tom is brown and muscular like a good Eagle Scout. I’m 5’10, 125lbs, and about 5lbs of that is pimples. With my thin pale body and red face, I looked like a matchstick standing there at the edge of the water. And as we’re looking across the lake, the thing that confused me about Tom saying this to me is I am invisible.
Now, let me explain what I mean by that. At school when I go into the cafeteria and there’s a table, and I come to the center of the table and I sit down, the other students turn their bodies away from me and continue to talk as if I’m not there. When we pick teams for kickball, and I’m the last kid standing by the wall, I’m not the last kid picked; they just don't even pick. They go on and do things without me. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m not unpopular. Unpopular would mean that I would be measured on a scale of popularity to unpopular. I’m not even on the scale. I am invisible. And so the shock hits me when Tom asked me if I want to race across the lake, and the only thing that I can think to say is “ready go.” And I ran out into the water.
And you know how it is when you’re first racing out into the water and you’re kicking your knees high? And I’m laughing, and Tom goes running past me, and he dives into the water. And I dive behind him, and he’s stroking like a great Eagle Scout swimmer, and he’s kicking with his strong legs. Now, I am a self-taught simmer, so I am slapping the water with my arms, and I’m not really thinking about kicking with my legs. And he’s pulling away from me, so I’m slapping harder and harder and harder and harder, and the water is slapping and making lots of noise. And I’m just splashing water in my face, and I’m making progress but my arms are getting tired. And the tired-er I get and the more I become fatigued and my upper body begins to shake, and my arms turn into rubber bands, and I can’t make any more progress, and I’m looking ahead, and it suddenly occurs to me in that moment: I cannot reach that shore. And when I looked behind me, I realized I could not reach that shore. And I am in a lot of trouble.
So I look to my right, and several yards out I can see some rocks sticking out of this lake. And so I realize that must be shallow water. So instead of heading to that shore, I make a right hand turn, and now I’m really in trouble. I’m struggling, and I’m shaking, and I’m getting water in my mouth. At one point I even got some water in my nose, so I’m smelling the lake, and I can taste it. And it gets in my ear, and my ear is popping, and I’m making my way and its everything I could do to reach those rocks. And when I put my hand out and I finally lay my hand on the rock, it’s not a rock. It’s the tip of logs floating in 15 feet of water. And I put my hand on the log, and the log sinks beneath me. And I struggle for a little while more, and then I think to myself: maybe if I just put my feet on the log it won’t sink very far. And I put my feet on the log, and the log just goes down, and I go below the water.
Now I’m really slapping the water, and I’m yelling, and I’m coughing, and the water is in my mouth. And Tom is circling, and he’s yelling, and he’s yelling instructions at me, and there’s this cacophony of noise. And all I can do is I can say, “Help! Help me! Help me! Help me!” And I’m screaming my lungs out, and all of the sudden it is completely and utterly quiet. And it occurs to me that my eyes are closed. And when I open them, there is something cold on the back of my head, and it’s the mud at the bottom of the lake. And I realize that this water is dark and that that water is light, and that must be up. And I’m out of air. I’m going to have to take a breath.
And so I put my foot against something hard at the bottom of the lake, and I push off for everything I’ve got, and I claw my way up towards the surface. As I’m coming up to the surface, I’m opening my mouth, getting ready for that breath, but I’m so close. But I can’t quite wait, and finally when I couldn't wait anymore, I break the surface just as I go (inhales) and draw in that air. And I’m coughing, and somehow I thought to roll over on my back. And Tom swims beside me for the next 15 minutes as we slowly crawl our way to the shore. And when I reach out to the shore, I reach out behind my head. I’m on my back now I’m sort of stroking slowly towards the shore, and when I got there I felt the rocks of the shore and I pulled myself up. And I sat there shaking in the shadows.
In that moment is when I realized: first of all, in middle of that chaos, and the cacophony, and the noise – and the world has a lot of noise right now – there is this quiet place. And in that quiet place there is hope and there is meaning. And I decided three things in that moment.
First, I want to live.
Second, I want to make a difference.
And third, if I want to make a difference, I have to choose to be seen.
So to my invisible friends here: if when I describe standing against that wall and describe not being picked for kickball and you thought “that’s me,” I’m talking to you right now.
Choose. Choose to live. Choose to make a difference. But the only way you can make that difference is choose to be seen. Thank you.
HOW TO BE SEEN
After nearly losing his life, Tony knew that he wanted to start using it to make a difference.
Are you looking for ways to make a difference, too?
Our upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings are a good place to start. As a Climate Reality Leader, you’ll join a network of over 20,000 like-minded activists to share the science and work toward solutions to secure the safe, sustainable tomorrow we all deserve.
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