The river brought them together, brought them strength after battling breast cancer and eventually led them to save a man’s life.
Patricia Pilutik and Wendy Cowan are being honoured in Vancouver on Saturday for jumping into the South Thompson River to save a man from possibly drowning last October.
“Afterwards, I was thinking, it’s just amazing,” said Pilutik. “The river just seems to have a special meaning in our lives.”
The women became friends on the river after joining the Spirit Warrior dragon boat team for survivors of breast cancer, which has as its theme song The River. And on that fateful day in October, while walking their dogs along the river, they came across an elderly man in distress in the freezing water.
He was in shin-deep water south of the Henry Grube Education Centre supporting himself with one arm to keep his head above the surface. A couple watching the man drew the women’s attention towards him. They didn’t think twice before jumping in.
“He was quite a ways out but not that deep,” said Cowan.
She said the man’s skin had turned blue and he looked frozen by the time they reached him. Pilutik took off the man’s coat while Cowan lifted him out of the water to help him breathe and the women hauled him to shore.
“There wasn’t a lot of thought to it,” said Cowan. “I’m glad we did it because every life is precious.”
Both women dismiss the idea they acted heroically.
“Honestly, my first reaction (to the award) was embarrassment,” said Pilutik. “It was obvious we could help this guy without risking our own lives. I think there are people out there who really do risk their lives.”
Nonetheless, when staff at the Lifesaving Society’s B.C. and Yukon branch came across a report of the women’s brave feat in The Daily News, they were deemed worthy of a Commonwealth Silver Medal for Bravery, which recognizes aquatic rescues.
“We chose them for the bravery they showed in entering the water when others stood by,” said society executive director Dale Miller.
They, along with 22 others from across the B.C. Yukon region, will be acknowledged for their actions at the 100th Annual Honour and Rescue Awards in Vancouver on Saturday.
Over 250 guests will attend, including dignitaries such as Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee and Vancouver City councillor Geoff Meggs.
The Lifesaving Society is one of the world’s leading agencies in water safety education and in training in lifesaving, life support and lifeguarding.
A Commonwealth organization, founded in London, England, in 1891, it is now represented in some 50 countries worldwide. The Queen is the patron and Prince Michael of Kent is the active Commonwealth president.