College swim captain saves 3 from drowning while on vacation near Lake Superior

·3-min read

A college swimmer was in the right place at the right time and saved a family of three from drowning while on vacation at a Michigan beach.

Marena Kouba, captain of the St. Cloud State swim team, was in Marquette, Michigan, at the beach at Little Presque Isle in Lake Superior. She and her boyfriend, Dayton Nash, saw a group of three swimmers struggling and calling for help.

They jumped into action as Zach Dwyer detailed for the St. Cloud Times.

College swimmer brings family back to shore

Kouba and Nash were going to walk out to an island in waters that were known for strong currents. They had noticed beforehand an uncle and two children, a 10-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, who seemed to be getting farther away from the shore.

Nash, who told the St. Cloud Times he was a “sinker, not a swimmer” turned back to shore to call 911 and prevent anyone else on the beach from swimming out. Kouba swam out to the three people in the water.

She said she assessed the situation and the fact they were all about 10 to 20 feet away from each other. She had them float on their backs, take deep breaths and join hands in a circle with her.

“I started paddling with one arm and was kicking with both legs," Kouba said, via the Times. "I was holding my other arm to the uncle and niece. The little kids were really scared, but they cooperated. I'm just happy we were able to get everyone back safely.”

They were about 200 yards out in the water and it took about 10 to 15 minutes for Kouba to get them back to shore, per KSTP 5 News.

Waiting for Coast Guard could have been trouble

The Coast Guard boats arrived shortly after they had arrived to shore.

“If we had just waited for the Coast Guard, those three probably would not have made it, and it would’ve been a totally different story, I just couldn’t live with myself if anything would’ve happened to any one of them,” Kouba told KSTP 5 News.

Nash told the St. Cloud Times:

“If she hadn't gone out there, they would've never made it,” Nash said. “The boy was asking her as she was swimming back if he was going to die. She had to say ... they're going to be fine.”

The current between Little Presque Point and the Isle can be very dangerous and change quickly. Officials continuously warn of the danger and there have been drownings in the area. There are markers honoring those who have died in the water.

Years of swimming paid off ‘in real life’

St. Cloud State University Huskies logo, graphic element on white
The captain of the St. Cloud University swim team saved three swimmers from dangerous waters in Michigan. (Getty Images)

Kouba, 21, will be a senior at St. Cloud. Her swim coach told Jeff Hegle told KSTP that her actions were exemplary of a leader and captain. And Nash noted to the Times her hard work in the school pool extends to real world application.

“The whole time I was definitely nervous for Marena, but I had a lot of trust in her just knowing how strong of a swimmer she is,” Nash said. “All of these years of swimming have finally paid off not only in the pool, but in real life.”

Kouba, a freestyle/butterfly specialist, qualified for nationals as an individual and relay team member in 2020, but the events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s been part of multiple conference title teams and is a Minnesota state champion in the 100m backstroke.

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