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Rescue of drowning girls reminds Alberta man of fine line between life and death

December 30, 2013 - 11:10 AM

Adam Shaw's bruises seemed a small price to pay to help an entire family avoid a broken heart.

When he and his dog plunged headlong into a half-frozen Edmonton river to save two drowning girls, their actions felt like a natural response for those accustomed to watching out for children.

But the 27-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., said the months since the daring rescue effort have reminded him that there's a very fine line between tragic and happy endings.

Perseverance, luck and canine loyalty made the difference between life and death, he said, adding that two families could easily have wound up mourning loved ones if events had played out just a bit differently.

"I never really thought about it until afterwards. With all the adrenalin and stuff that's going through you, it just wasn't really a factor," Shaw said in a telephone interview. "It took a long time before I sat down and realized, 'wow, what just happened?'"

Shaw's heroics got underway innocuously enough when he, his wife, their two children and their dog Rocky set out for an Easter stroll in late March.

As they walked near the North Saskatchewan River, they began hearing the screams of kids in distress.

Shaw and Rocky raced to the riverbank to find that nine-year-old Samara Sunshine and her 10-year-old sister Krymzen had both fallen through the unstable ice spanning the water.

Shaw hastened onto the ice, followed closely by the faithful lab-husky cross.

Shaw was able to pluck Krymzen from the water relatively quickly and send her back to shore, but Samara's rescue seemed all but impossible when the ice gave way and sent both Shaw and Rocky plunging into the frigid water.

Eventually Shaw clung to his dog to hoist himself back up onto solid ice, then circled back to find a better way to save Samara.

The successful strategy also hinged on Rocky, who swam out to the drowning girl, allowed her to cling to his leash, and pulled her back to where a bruised and slightly hypothermic Shaw was waiting to reel her in.

The fast pace and high stakes of the rescue effort gave Shaw little opportunity to reflect on hypothetical outcomes, but he said his plunge into the river reminded him that he was embroiled in a life and death struggle.

"When I fell through it started to get pretty real at that point," he said. "I guess I thought I could get out a lot easier than i was able to. I guess it woke me up a bit that I better not become the third victim."

The gravity of his narrow escape began to sink in over the next two weeks, as he found himself fielding media calls from across the country and rapidly rising to the status of a local celebrity.

As he accepted awards from the Edmonton fire department and tributes from other local organizations, the events of the day sank in with greater force.

The scope of the impact he had was forcibly brought home to him when he was reunited with Samara, Krymzen and their parents at a junior hockey game.

Shaw said it was a relief to find the girls thriving after their ordeal, adding neither party was keen to dwell on the traumatic events.

"We talked a bit about it, but I think they were in shock a little bit and don't really remember a lot of the details," he said.

The particulars haven't faded from the collective consciousness, however. Shaw and Rocky continue to be honoured for their actions, receiving a medal of bravery from the Royal Canadian Humane Association as recently as November.

Shaw said the incident is still vivid for him, particularly as he goes about the outdoor activities he loves to engage in with his wife, their four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.

Being a father, he said, has made him more conscious of the need to emphasize safety at an early age.

"It's a story you can tell your kids or anyone you see down by the river, for sure," Shaw said of the incident. "Everyone knows how serious rivers are in Canada in the wintertime.

You always need to use precautions."

If the mental effects of the encounter have lingered, the physical ones were quick to dissipate.

Shaw was back to normal within days, and Rocky didn't suffer so much as a drop in appetite.

If anything, Shaw said the rescue effort seems to have intensified his heroic hound's love of arctic conditions.

"Sometimes we'll go out ski-dooing and he'll be running in the snow beside me, there'll be an open spot in the water and I'll see him just go over and lie down because he's hot,"

Shaw said. "This dog's crazy."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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