It was good for 37-year-old East Toledo fisherman Gary Spaulding that Clay High seniors Nick Isbell and Shane Gaghen passed their Ohio Graduation Tests.
As a result, Isbell and Gaghen were available on a school day to go fishing in the Maumee River. On the last Friday afternoon in March, they saved Spaulding’s life after he lost his footing and could easily have drowned in the 48-degree water.
Spaulding said he went to Orleans Park in Perrysburg at 12:45 p.m. and when Isbell and Gaghen pulled him out several hundred yards downstream it was close to 3:45 p.m.
“All I can say is that I can thank them from the bottom of my heart. I was backstroking and kicking,” Spaulding said. “After a time when they couldn’t get out to me, I was in close enough to where I could reach out my fishing pole and they grabbed my pole and got me in.”
|Nick Isbell and Shane Gaghen|
Spaulding said it was not deep water that took him down — it was the current.
“I was in water just over my knees, and I turned into the current and the current caught me right across my legs and I went down face first. I got back up twice and I just not keep my footing on the rocks,” Spaulding said.
Isbell said, “After maybe three or four minutes, I couldn’t sit there and watch him go through this anymore so Shane and I decided to do something. We got out of the water and ran along the shoreline and just grabbed him as soon as possible.
Gaghen added, “I yelled to him and said, ‘Put your feet down’ and I don’t think he could hear me. He was pretty far away. Then we tried floating a big, dead tree to him, and he was starting to go too fast. Then we got down there and I went into the water and it was actually shallow enough I could get out there.”
Once EMS personnel got to Spaulding, they put him in a boat and took him upstream to safety. He was treated at St. Luke’s Hospital in Maumee, mostly for exposure to the cold water.
“When I was in (the water), I didn’t pay much attention to it (the cold) because I was trying to keep myself up because I was going down the river backwards on my back,” Spaulding explained. “Once I got out, then the one fire department guy, he slid down and hurt his knee, and as soon as he got me stood up that’s when all the water that was on top of me went straight down into my feet. But if it wasn’t for me having my freeze-line clothes, they said that’s what helped.
“When they took me in my body temperature was down to 93.9 (degrees). They would not let me leave until my body temperature hit 98,” Spaulding continued. “They had me under some kind of heating blankets and stuff like that.”
Isbell said, “I think what may have happened is his waders filled up with air with water on top of the air. People probably assumed that he would be able to get up. He was in waders probably 10 yards from the bank. (The water level) was actually low compared to what it could be. If it would have been higher he might not have made it. All that was left was his head — he was on top trying to get his breath.”
Gaghen added, “His feet were straight up and he was doing all he could to keep his head and feet out of the water. If it would have been the week before, or even a couple days before, he would have been gone down stream. There would be no getting to him because the water the week before was up another five or six feet.”
Clay High pride
It was after returning to Orleans Park that the Clay seniors began to realize what they had accomplished.
“We were walking back to the park to fish again, and there were cops, there were DNR officers, there was all kinds of people — the fire department,” Gaghen said. “There were a lot of people there, but the first two (EMS) guys that were there got there pretty quick.”
Gaghen and Isbell have returned to fish since the incident. Spaulding wants to get back out before the walleye spawning season ends but remains hesitant.
“I’ve been fishing in the river for about 25 years now. This is probably the first year that I have not put any fish in the freezer in March,” Spaulding said. “I want to get back out there, but without someone going with me to try and get over that fear of crossing the river again and after going through what I went through I’m not so sure.”
Gaghen is a Toledo City League champion in wrestling and was on Clay’s football and power lifting team. Isbell played football and previously was on Clay’s wrestling and baseball teams.
Isbell plans on attending Bowling Green State University next year, major unknown, and Gaghen has already been accepted to Hocking College where he will study wildlife management with the hopes of becoming a DNR officer or park ranger.
The two boys have been hunting and fishing together since meeting after Gaghen transferred from Waite his sophomore year.
“It’s what we do. We fish and hunt together,” Isbell said. “‘Would you like to fish? Where else would you like to go,’ ‘Uh, anywhere.’ The biggest thing for me is putting something in the freezer and eating it.”
Gaghen added, “There can be a puddle of water in a field and if there is fish in it, we’ll go fishing there.”
Back at Clay, talk has been going around about the two boys’ efforts.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Assistant Principal Jim Jurski said. “Here’s what kind of kids they are — I didn’t hear the talk going around the school but I heard the talk from other teachers, so they weren’t bragging about it. So that just says something right there about what kind of kids these guys are. It was nothing where they were bragging about it or anything like that — just nonchalant and matter of fact and they went on about their business.
“I think they saw somebody in need and didn’t even hesitate or think twice and just went right to action. I think that was great. They are good kids in school, they are hard workers, and they are not in trouble in school, and so they are a good representation of Clay High School,” Jurski continued.
Faculty members aren’t the only ones who stand proud.
“I’m really proud of him,” said senior Ashley Bartok, Isbell’s girlfriend. “I always knew that he could do something like this because he is really kind. He helps people.”