Meet Christopher Marino, age 13. He's the one on the left in the picture. Christopher and his father, Walter, (pictured with him) had a teensy-tinesy little adventure not long ago. They were swimming off of Florida's Atlantic coast when they got caught in a powerful rip current and were swept apart. Nearly three miles apart. For 12 hours, Walter and Christopher treaded water, growing further and further apart with each passing minute. To gauge distance, Walter continued to call to Christopher, using lines from Disney movies back and forth.
"To infinity," Walter would call.
"And beyond!" Christopher responded.
Eventually, there was no response. Walter was sure Christopher was gone. When he was rescued by fisherman and transferred to a Coast Guard cutter, he went down below because he couldn't bear to watch them come across Christopher's lifeless body. When the Coast Guard called him up from below, he was sure the news would be the worst. Instead, they pointed to a Coast Guard helicopter flying overhead.
"See that helicopter?" they told Marino. "It has your son on board, and he's fine."
Christopher beat Walter back to shore, though he was nearly a quarter mile farther out to sea. Both Marinos suffered from mild exposure and dehydration, and jellyfish stings, but were otherwise fine. The Coast Guard rescue unit was pretty gob-smacked. They had been looking for the pair for nearly as long as they'd been gone, and were sure after the first ten or so hours, they'd find bodies.
How did these two survive? Walter survived by refusing to panic, even after he thought he'd lost his son. He remained calm, thought of his daughter and how he couldn't let her suffer two deaths in the family, and alternated between floating on his back, and dog-paddling with the rip current until he was rescued.
As for Christopher, we'll never know how he survived after he lost contact with his father. Christopher is severly autistic and is almost entirely non-verbal, save for vocalizations and lines from movies and t.v. shows. Marino believes it was autism that saved his son.
Christopher has no fear of death, Marino explains. "And the water is one of his favorite things." Christopher is soothed by water, so managed to avoid panicking himself. When they wafted through a jellyfish school and began getting stung, Christopher did start to freak out, but Walter talked him through it. Shortly thereafter, the boy drifted out of his father's earshot.
We will never know what happened to Christopher once he was separated from his father. We only know he kept on swimming and treading water, until he was picked up by Coast Guard helicopter. It was the rescue of the father that led to the rescue of the son, as the Coast Guard was able to reorient their search for Christopher once Walter had been picked up with the fishing boat. If Walter had given up, as he considered doing for a moment when he thought his son was lost, then his son would have been lost.
So, move over Michael Phelps. Christopher Marino is my new favorite championship swimmer.