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How 3 KU fraternity brothers rescued boy from riptide on spring break trip to Florida

The science of rip currents

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S. Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer. Lifeguards
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Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S. Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer. Lifeguards

Jared Cox and two of his University of Kansas fraternity brothers on spring break in Florida had settled into their beach chairs when they heard the cry for help.

Cox, who is from Overland Park, and Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers Connor Churchhill of Olathe and Cole Firmature of Omaha were in Destin with a group of nine friends to “get out of the cold,” Cox said. But the weather on March 11 was misty and overcast, and the three headed to the beach alone.

As they listened to music from a nearby beach bar, a woman cried for a lifeguard and pointed to the water.

After that, Cox said, they didn’t really think. Churchill looked for the lifeguards patrolling the beaches on ATVs, but there was no one to be found. Cox and Firmature started sprinting to the water as Churchill followed.

“We all sprang into action,” Cox said. “It took us five to 10 seconds to get to the water.”

It took them a few more seconds to spot a young boy drifting on a boogie board 40 yards out into the ocean. The boy’s relatives stood knee-deep in the surf, but it was clear they didn’t know how to swim.

Firmature, the best swimmer of the group, reached the boy first. But all three men swim laps at KU’s Robinson Center twice a week.

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KU Sigma Phi Epsilon members Cole Firmature (from left), Jared Cox and Connor Churchill were part of a larger group on spring break in Destin, Fla.

Together, the three brought the child back to shore by pushing him on his board.

“When we finally got out there, we didn’t realize how far we actually had to go,” Cox said. The rescue, he said, was “exhausting.”

There were plenty of thank-yous from the boy, his family and the lifeguard who rolled up two minutes after the first cry for help and waited for the men back on land.

But it was an onlooker from Kansas who shared their story.

“Today changed my mind about millennials,” wrote Kaci Gilchrist of Independence, Kan., on Facebook. “These guys deserve the utmost credit for putting their lives on the line to save those babies! Watching those kids get to shore and fall into their (mother’s) arms and those young men fall on the sand in exhaustion was life changing.”

Cox said he and his friends weren’t interested in attention, but they did wonder if the rest of their friends would believe their story.

Then, when his brothers finally showed up, Gilchrist asked if she could take a picture. And the remaining Sigma Phi Epsilon men realized their friends had told the truth.

“Nobody was going to let the kid drown out there,” said Cox, who is now back in Lawrence. “I feel like anybody who knew how to swim and was in our position would have done the same thing.”

Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.


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