April 23, 2012
BERKELEY - Former Cal men's water polo player Mike Sample (2006-09) has made a habit helping people, but saving someone's life certainly classifies him as a hero. Sample was one of a group of people honored last week by the American Red Cross of Marin for performing heroic deeds. For a video of the event on ABC Channel 7 click Here.
On June 18, 2011, Sample, former Cal swimmer Kenny Bower and former Johns Hopkins water polo player Chris Hanson were on a ferry near Angel Island.
Sample tells what happened next on that fateful day:
We were traveling back from Tiburon to San Francisco on the Blue and Gold Ferry. The boat makes a stop on the backside of Angel Island to pick up day hikers. The ferry docked in the harbor and was waiting for people to board. I was with a group of people including Kenny (Bower) and Chris (Hanson) and other friends standing on the outside back deck when we noticed a kayak had flipped over and a woman was trying to swim herself to safety. The back of the ferry (where were located) was facing the beach.
She was fully clothed and not a strong swimmer. The crowd on our ferry started screaming, "help them...where did he go?...where did he go?...someone do something." There was another ferry parked behind ours and the crew was attempting to throw a life ring into the water and a rope to help the woman. People kept yelling, "where did he go?..where did he go?..do something. Get him out of the water." I didn't actually see the man fall out of the kayak, nor did I see him in the water, until about 30 second later when he floated to the surface with his head down and his body lifeless.
At that point it became clear that someone needed to do something fast or the man may die. No one was jumping into the water to save him and his wife did not seem strong enough in the water to help.
Kenny and I are fairly experienced ocean swimmers. Our friends knew this and one turned to me and said, "Sample, do something, go get him." I leaped off the back of the ferry and Kenny and Chris joined in. I got to Jim (Thompson), flipped him over and his eyes were rolled to the back of his head. Jim had white foam coming from his mouth. I braced his neck and grabbed him by his pants and started egg beating (a treading water technique used in water polo) to the closest dock.
It was about a 25-yard swim to reach Jim from the Blue and Gold Ferry, and another 20 or so yards to the dock. Kenny and Chris each grabbed one of Jim's legs and all three of us swam him to the dock. Kenny began yelling for a back board and the Angel Island Rangers showed up and lifted Jim out of the water. A tourist on Angel Island, who happened to be a doctor, saw all of this unfold and began performing CPR. The rangers shoved tubes down Jim's mouth and forced air into his lungs. He was lifeless, but by the time the helicopter landed on the island's beach I believe the Rangers had got Jim's pulse back, although he was still unconscious. The Rangers airlifted Jim out of the park and we gave our report to the Park Rangers.
We did not hear whether Jim had survived or not for about five days, until we received a phone call telling us he had made it.
Jim received our contact information from the Park Rangers and reached out to thank us. He wanted to meet those who had saved him and take them out to a "thank you" brunch.
About four months after one of the craziest days of our lives, and certainly a crazy day for Jim, we joined him and his extended family (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, kids and wife) for a delicious brunch at Sam's in Tiburon. Chris, Kenny, and I along with the tourist doctor were all invited. We all went.
Jim had made a full recovery and is alive!
Mike Sample was a member of Cal's 2006 and 2007 national championship squads and team captain for the Bears in 2009. Also in 2009, Sample was the recipient of the Walter A. Haas, Jr. Community Service Award given to a student-athlete for outstanding contribution to community service. A three-time member of the ACWPC and MPSF All-Academic Teams majoring in interdisciplinary studies, Sample concluded his Cal career with 39 goals, 72 assists and 58 steals in 104 matches.
Most recently, Sample was involved with the April 15 "Swim With Mike" fundraiser at Spieker Aquatics Complex. "Swim With Mike" helps raise funds for students who have overcome life-challenging accidents or illnesses, be able to pursue both undergraduate and graduate degrees.