Updated: July 22, 2020 06:45 PM
Created: July 22, 2020 06:21 PM
It was a warm but windy Sunday in Michigan's Upper Peninsula near Marquette.
Twenty-one-year-old Marena Kouba and her boyfriend, Dayton Nash, were on vacation at the beach.
"We were at the island (Little Presque Isle) and the waves were really huge. There was a bad current, it was really strong even though you’re just stepping in the water," Kouba said.
The couple had been watching some swimmers, two young kids and an adult, when they heard a yell for help.
"I couldn’t just stand around and wait to see what happened, immediately I dove into the water and started swimming out to them, they were all separated about 10 to 20 feet apart from each other," Kouba described.
Nash doesn't know how to swim, so he took off for shore.
"I was trying to wave to people to tell them to call 911 but nobody could hear me because of the waves," he recalled.
The area is known for rough water, strong currents and multiple drownings. But, as captain of the St. Cloud State University swim team, Kouba is a strong swimmer.
"I got them all together, I had them all hold hands and then I went in the middle and linked up with them, and I paddled with one arm and kicked with both of my legs," Kouba said.
Her confidence in her ability has grown throughout college thanks in part to her swim coach.
"She didn't think about herself, she didn't hesitate, she didn't think what was best for her, she just knew that she had to help somebody else and somebody else was in need and she did that, and I think that's the true sign of a leader and a captain," remarked Jeff Hegle, the head swim and dive coach at SCSU.
It's clear the coach and swimmer have immense respect for each other.
"He has instilled so many values in me and this team, and I would not be the same person that I am today without him in my life," Kouba shared through tears.
Roughly 200 yards out into the water, it took 10 to 15 minutes to get all three back to shore just as the Coast Guard arrived.
"If we had just waited for the Coast Guard, those three probably would not have made it, and it would’ve been a totally different story, I just couldn’t live with myself if anything would’ve happened to any one of them," Kouba said.
"If you think about the impact she had on this family, it has changed that family for the rest of their life, they have two kids who are coming home and uncle coming home, it just makes me very proud that you have athletes that make those decisions," Hegle said.
Nash said police at the beach told him two weeks ago that 40 people had to be rescued from Little Presque Isle because of the waves and strong current.
Nash and Kouba said they weren't even planning to be in Michigan but had to change their plans due to a COVID-19 cancellation and ended up there. They said this experience has changed them.
"I think the biggest thing we feel right now, it’s relief we didn’t have to witness something else happen that day," said Nash.
"For me, I will definitely learn how to swim now," he added with a smile.
"I’m just glad we both were there at the right time, at the right place, I don’t think it was a coincidence," said Kouba.
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