Camp Story

Search and rescue at night…

Camp story!  In a pre-mom life, I was a lifeguard for 14 years at a Christian summer camp.   This place was amazing.  It was nestled on the end of a quiet lake in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  We had water skiing.  We had a blob.  We had a long T shaped dock.  We had water trampolines.  We had kayaks and canoes.  It was a fantastic waterfront.  I worked with amazing people.   Fun!  Working on a waterfront at camp is usually a blast until something goes awry.   Then it is full speed, all hands on deck!  Well, one particular night we were all ushering into evening meeting and none of us could put our eyes on a particular camper.  I will call him Tim.  Tim was a somewhat troubled kid from just outside of Boston.  You know coming to camp was a break from a hard life.  He was your typical skateboarding kid.  You knew at home he was not the popular kid.  The thing about camp though is that regardless of your home life you can be someone different.  Many times I had seen kids come to camp and become accepted and flourish!   I was able to see kids make real connections and friends at camp.   Anyway back to that night!  Tim was nowhere to be seen.  Usually, kids ducking out on evening meeting can be found back in their cabin or with the nurse.  He was in neither place.  It was with great dread we came to realize we have lost a camper.  We had one unaccounted for.  He was an at-risk kid in the middle of nowhere.  We had practiced for scenarios like this.  We had what was known as the top 10. These were fellow staff members who could swim very well and would be part of our search and rescue team.  If he was on ground we know we would eventually find him.  However, back in our minds was the very large lake.  The lake, that under the law, we needed to start searching.   Once we finish our swim area we then need to search the woods in pairs.  Each of us had a portion of our campus that we were responsible for.  I walk in the side door of the evening meeting and make eye contact with my top 9.  I was number 10.  There was a buzz even before I walked in.  Staff and campers knew something was amiss.  Too many people had walked in and out searching faces.  Counting rows.  With each eye that I caught the reality was sinking in.  I am going to take these 9 young staff members and have them swim searching for a body.  When we call a search and rescue emergency the first stop is the beach.  You are swimming with whatever you have on.  By this time it was dark.  Our maintenance man drove his truck down to the lake with the lights facing out towards the lake.   I remember giving a brief speech.  Saying something to the fact that if they come across anything they do not have to pull it up.  Simply get to the surface and try to stay put.  These 9 faces looking at me.  Some scared.  Some shocked.  Some ready for the task.  We had practiced this in the light of day with swimsuits on but somehow searching fully clothed by truck light brought a real sense of urgency.  We used the standard search and rescue format.  Ten across less than an arm’s length across.   We start by walking through the shallow end moving our feet around to cover the entire space of our shallow end.  I was at deep point.  My fellow friend and guard was taking the lead in shallow.  Walk three steps forward and then one step back.  Then we all line up with the person furthest back.  Continue this process until the entire shallow end was covered.  Now the deep end.  I can see the other 9 rescuers faces that this just got real.  I had one girl tell me she can not finish.  I told her to go wait for us on the beach.  In the deep end, we would need to surface dive down to the bottom and take 3 strokes under water all the while feeling the ground for any large object such as a body.  Swim to the surface and take one stroke back.  Then we line up with the person back the furthest and do the whole thing over again until we have covered our entire deep end.  Our deepest point is 14 feet deep.  Yes, we had to continue even that deep!  As we finish several sweeps one by one the team starts dropping away.  Either the physical requirement was too much for them or the thought of coming across a body was enough.  Keep in mind this is a lake in the White Mountains.  In the shallow end of our swimming area you can see the bottom but with most lakes in New Hampshire once in deeper waters you can not see the bottom.  On the bottom, you will find logs, sticks, MUD, and weeds!  Any of which can mess with your mind.  As we near the end of our search there are 3 of us left.  Then we had to check under the docks.  Now I don’t know about you but I have seen too many horror movies!  The idea of swimming under docks, at night, looking for a body just about did me in!  My team was looking to me for leadership.  As much as I wanted to bail.  Throw in the towel.  Quit!  I had to continue.  On a normal day, it would not be uncommon to see fish under the outer dock.  With a deep breath, I swim to the bottom of the lake knowing there is a dock above me.  I was praying that I would not come across any fish, sea monster, shark, loch ness, body of  Jimmy Hoffa, nor the kid we were looking for.  I remember keeping my eyes closed.  Not that I could have seen anything.  It was pitch black!  But the idea of seeing something before hitting it with my hands or face was too much.   Some of you may want to see what is coming but not me!  I blindly swam.  My foot hit one of the anchor lines and I thought for sure it was the lake monster coming to swallow me whole.  That almost did me in.  However, I was under a dock in pitch black.  I had no place to go but forward.  In all the darkness I could not really tell how far 10 feet was.  The last thing I wanted to do was head to the surface and be stuck under the dock.  So I swam.  I mean I swam far.  When I finally hit the surface I was a good 10 feet past the dock.  Fine by me.  At least I was not under the dock.  A few more passes and we could surmise that under the dock was free and clear.  No body.  No monster.  My friend Bob and I drag ourselves to the remaining team waiting for us on the beach.  A sense of great relief that we did not find him floating or sunk deep in the lake.  Soaking wet we put on our shoes to start the land search.  It was then we got word from our director.  The camper was found a few miles down the road.  He was skateboarding home to Massachusetts.  Our search party was called off.  Ten soaking wet staff members walk back to main camp.  Relief.  Exhaustion.  The only thing he said when he came back what he was surprised anyone noticed he was missing and that we cared so much that we went looking for him.  We did care.  I think everyone on the team gave him a hug the next time we saw him.  When he knew how much we cared he was no longer a flight risk.  He had a great rest of his week at camp.   As I look back on that night I am proud of those who were a part of the events.  I think it was a learning event for all involved.   I often think of that camper.  The young man who came to us lost and broken we were able to show love.  I wonder where he is.  Did he find peace?  Is he happy?  This is a reminder to me as an adult, as a teacher.  Never stop looking for the broken and wounded.  Never stop seeking the lost.  If we all just extended a caring ear or lend a hand how much better would the lost and lonely be?  How much better the world would be?

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27


#DreamTeam Linky – Week 88


  1. Such a different post and I love it partly because it is about a country different to mine, partly because it is well written and an adventure story but mostly because of your strength through wobbles and your absolute commitment to helping others. I am sure you changed this person’s life and that he will never forget. Popping over from the Family Fun linky

    1. beachchairtracy

      I hope so. He was a good kid who just needed to be loved on!

  2. I am sure that you changed his life for the better, what a wonderful post. #AnythingGoes

  3. Wow that’s something to go through that is clearly unforgettable. Glad he was found land side, it’s not worth thinking about otherwise!! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

  4. What a story! I’m so pleased it had a happy ending but so sorry you and your young team were put through that. So pleased that it actually had a positive impact on his self-esteem xx #familyfunlinky xx

  5. Oh my gosh, that’s frightful. Thank goodness there was a happy ending in that he was OK. I can’t imagine the fear you all had to contend with swimming the lake (day or night) for that reason. How brave were you! Thanks for sharing with the #DreamTeam x

  6. oh my goodness what a story, one that has clearly stayed with you – for reasons I can understand. I am so glad it all worked out and I do truly hope that he found peace in later life too. Lots of respect to you, thank you for joining us at #familyfun

  7. Kaushik

    Nice story. Very inspiring indeed.

  8. I, as a member of the 10 totally remember this night. I remember the feeling of utter relief to know he was ok. You are right, those of us who know Christ must never stop searching, fighting, loving those lost, even when we are freezing, exhausted, terrified of what we might find

    1. beachchairtracy

      Searching under the dock was the WORST!! All dark and muddy. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Marko

    Nice story .

  10. So glad for the happy ending. I hope that he found peace in later life .

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