Her 13-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome had gone missing in the surf. Then a pod of dolphins came to the rescue.
- Posted on Mar 26, 2020
Pichilemu, my Chilean home, is known as the Capital of the Surf. People come from all over the world to ride our waves. My husband, Mitch, and I have lived here since the eldest of our five children was a baby, surfing and spreading the Gospel, living it in our home as well.
A couple Easters ago, I was especially focused on our youngest, 13-year-old Katrina. She and I had been talking about Easter in preparation for the upcoming service, but I wasn’t sure how much had really gotten through. Katrina has Down syndrome, and she often had trouble making herself understood. How could I know my daughter’s questions so I could fully convey the power of the Easter message?
“Why don’t we go to the beach?” I said. Floating on our surfboards in God’s ocean seemed a pretty good place to talk about miracles.
“Yay!” Katrina said and ran off to find her powder-blue board. She was a strong swimmer on the local team and a good surfer too. That was no surprise in my family—Mitch would rather surf than eat, and I’d been a lifeguard for years in California. Katrina had a childlike wonder about the sea. Sand castles, surfing, starfish—all were magical to her. Through her eyes, it was magical to me too.
The beach was packed, and we threw our stuff down near some neighbors. Sun sparkled off the water. A few surf schools were having lessons in the shallow, peaceful bay. Beyond them, out in deeper waters, I could see waves of 30 feet or more. Only the most experienced surfers ventured there. One of the kids in our group was a beginner, so, ever the lifeguard, I went with her down to the water and took my time settling her on her surfboard—too much time for Katrina. I let her paddle out ahead of us. “Not past those people,” I told her, pointing to some surfing students. “I want to be able to see you.”
“Okay, Mom!” she called, heading off in her shiny black wet suit.
The waters of the bay were shallow enough that if Katrina had any trouble, she could walk right out.
I turned back to see Katrina several yards away—and still paddling fast. “Katrina!” I shouted, surprised at her. “Come back!”
Katrina kept going, disappearing among the surfing students. “Katrina!” I took off after her. This was not the day for a game of chase.
It’s not easy to go after someone on a surfboard. Lying flat against the water’s surface, it’s hard to see anything. I paddled a few strokes, then sat up and scanned the water, squinting into the sunlight that reflected off the ocean’s spray. She couldn’t have gotten very far. My arms were longer, and I was stronger. Perhaps I’d passed her?
I twisted around to look up at the cliffs behind me, where a couple was walking. “Hello!” I yelled up to them. “Can you see a girl on a blue surfboard out there?”
The couple scanned the water. Almost immediately the woman pointed to the north—way farther than I had believed Katrina could be. But sure enough there she was, 400 yards away, on the other side of a sand bar—beyond the bay and well into dangerous waters. I couldn’t believe it.
“Katrina!” I screamed. People turned at the fear in my voice. All I could do was watch helplessly as Katrina rose up on a wave, crashed to the bottom and disappeared.
“We’ll find her!” a man called out. He and his friends headed toward her on their surfboards.
I twisted back to the couple on the cliff. “Please run to the surf shop!” I said. “My little girl’s out there. We need the Coast Guard!”
The couple rushed off. Lifeguards splashed into the water, and the surf instructors swam past me. People on the beach saw the commotion and moved to the water’s edge. With swift, powerful strokes, I paddled out of the bay and into the waters beyond, toward the last place I’d seen my daughter. Then I sat up and scanned the surf again.
The sunlight reflecting off the mist on the water made it almost impossible to see anything. I looked at my watch. It had been 30 minutes since Katrina had left me. I swam back to shore and stumbled up to one of the lifeguards. “Did anyone find her?”
“Not so far,” he said. “I’m only getting reports of a pod of toninas.”
The Chilean dolphins were rarely seen around Pichilemu. These must have been migrating to warmer waters for mating season. Katrina had never seen one. Imagining how my daughter’s face would have lighted up at the idea of a pod of black dolphins, I felt my throat close up and my eyes fill with tears. Lord, please send your angels to help her.
I ran up and down the shore, squinting into the mist. Out in the water, the searchers did the best they could, but the big waves made it hard for them to get very far. Once more I paddled out on my board, hoping for a glimpse of Katrina. When I didn’t find her, I returned to the beach and scanned the children’s faces there, hoping against hope Katrina would suddenly appear among them. A friend from the surf shop came up beside me. “How long has she been missing?” he asked.
I looked at my watch. “Two hours!” I sobbed. It seemed as if only minutes had passed since I’d watched her crash down from that wave.
“She’s a strong swimmer,” he reminded me. “Don’t give up hope.”
I couldn’t give up hope. I bowed my head. I’d brought Katrina here today to teach her about miracles.
“I’m going to jog up the beach,” I said. “Follow the current north.” Off I went, but what did I expect to find? Katrina was in the water somewhere. There was little chance she’d get back to shore after all this time. Never had the promise and hope of Easter seemed so far away.
Another man jogged toward me from the other direction. “Have you seen a little girl with a blue surfboard?” I asked him.
The man pointed north and jogged on by. Had he seen her? I shielded my eyes from the sun and stared into the distance.
There, on the beach ahead, was a little figure in a black wet suit. She was sitting on the shore building a sand castle. Beside her was a powder-blue surfboard. “Katrina!” She looked up.
“Mom!” She scrambled up and ran into my arms. “Scary!” she said, pointing to the ocean. I asked her how on earth she made it back to shore.
“Dolphins, Mom!” said Katrina.
Dolphins? I didn’t know Katrina had learned the word.
“Sticky noses!” said Katrina. She poked her own nose forward, imitating the creatures she described. Then she used her hands to show them leaping in and out of the water. She made sweeping gestures with her arms, as if she were swimming, and looked from side to side.
Little by little, I began to understand: Katrina was swimming and the toninas surrounded her, touching her with their wet noses until she grabbed onto the dorsal fin of one of the pod. Then she’d just let him pull her back to shore.
Everyone gave a great cheer when we got back to the beach. We called in the searchers. The guys from the surf shop had brought Mitch from home, and he swept Katrina into his arms. She told the whole crowd about her magical dolphin adventure. I’d brought Katrina to the beach to teach her about miracles, but I never dreamed we’d witness one firsthand. Never had the promise and hope of Easter seemed so near.
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