Chesterton Tribune

Nonchalant hero, Colin Ringas, 15, saves buddy from drowning

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Teenage boys can be astonishingly casual about the gravest of matters, stonily taciturn when it comes to their feelings, and when pressed to speak from the heart tongue-tied and embarrassed.

So getting the story of one Chesterton High School freshman’s genuine heroism wasn’t easy.

Certainly it wasn’t easy for the hero’s own mother, who on hearing her son offhandedly say he’d saved his friend’s life that day at first didn’t think much of it.

The hero: Colin Ringas, 15.

His friend: Colin Wilson, 15.

The day in question: Monday, Aug. 15, the penultimate day of summer vacation, a good day for boating on Lake Michigan, and pretty darn near the last day of Colin Wilson’s life.

The place: Lake Michigan, 300 feet off the shoreline in Ogden Dunes, where Colin and Colin were visiting a friend.

Colin Wilson tells this story: “We’d taken a boat out and tied it to a buoy. Colin (Ringas) decided to swim back to shore to get a kayak and I followed him. I’m not a bad swimmer but I’m not used to long distances and I misjudged my stamina. About halfway I ran out of gas. I called for help. He asked once if I was serious and I said ‘Yeah.’ He put his arm around me and we made it back together.”

That’s the bare-boned story. Colin Wilson’s mom, Jill, puts some flesh on it. “Colin was about 100 feet from where he thought he could touch bottom when he ran out of steam. He also was getting a touch of exercise-induced asthma. Colin told Colin (Ringas) ‘I need help.’ And Colin (Ringas) recognized immediately that my son wasn’t kidding around, swam back, put his arm around Colin’s shoulder, and pulled him back to shore. What impresses me most is his clear thinking, his immediate recognition of the situation, knowing exactly what to do.”

So what happened that night at the Ringas household? Tammy Ringas, Colin’s mom, remembers. “He mentioned something about it in passing. ‘Colin had a problem, he was drowning, I saved him.’”

Oh yeah, ho hum, big deal. “Teenage kids sometimes blow things off,” Tammy says. “They can be really nonchalant. And with my oldest daughter just starting college, it took awhile before we got all the details of it.”

Out--eventually--the details came, though. “I have to say, I’m very proud of my son, thankful he was part of the Duneland Swim Club for so many years,” Tammy says. “He was going under himself on the way back. It could have been a terrible situation. But he’s a breast stroker. He understands about going under, getting a breath, going under again.”

“We get so few stories to read about teenagers doing the right thing,” Tammy adds. “There’ve been a few this week, about community spirit and heroism after the tornado. I guess this is another one. He’s a good kid.”

Heroism? Huh? “I really don’t like to think of myself as a hero,” Colin Ringas says.

Okay, so don’t say hero. Say kid who risked his own life to keep his buddy from dying. “I was dragging Colin. He was a little bit on top of me. I was holding him up, breast stroking with one arm. I had a hard time keeping him up. If he’d struggled at all, I could really have drowned myself. But we managed to get in. I was doing all right but I got really, really tired toward the end.”

In fact Colin Ringas has some words of praise himself for Colin Wilson. “What’s good about Colin is that he let me help him. Usually when people are drowning they start flailing about. He really could have used me as a buoy but he trusted me.”

No surprise there, perhaps. Colin and Colin go way back, met in the same martial arts class when they were 6, and have been good friends for the last five years.

So Colin Wilson’s got a new lease on life. “It’s a really humbling experience. It’s difficult to explain. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here. It shows me that I can’t do everything on my own. We talked about it directly after. He was really good about it, trying to calm me down. I was really freaked out.”

And what was going through Colin Ringas’ mind at the time? “I don’t really know. I’ve heard stories about people drowning. When I’m in the water and someone’s having difficulty, I take that seriously. It’s not something you fool around with. What else was I supposed to do? It’s something you’ve got to do.”



Posted 8/28/2009