Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Magee
“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” yelled a teenage boy as he struggled to keep his head above the water.
As he looked toward the beach getting farther away, he saw a man swimming toward him.
Only moments before, Zac was celebrating the future he would spend with his wife — a future that was in jeopardy as he fought to keep himself and a complete stranger alive.
Zac married his wife, Cindy, on a warm summer afternoon at Orange Beach, Alabama, Aug. 2, 2018.
The day was initially planned to be a low-key family outing, but it turned into a full on wedding ceremony in the span of a week.
“It all came together last minute, which was awesome,” Zac said.
During the ceremony, Zac looked out at the ocean as his bride made her way down to him.
“When I turned around I couldn’t keep it together,” he said. “I lost it because she was so beautiful.”
“It felt like a dream, honestly,” Cindy said. “It still feels like a dream.”
After the ceremony, the newlywed couple made their way closer to the water for photographs.
As they were posing for a photo, a woman approached them.
“Hey, that kid out there’s having a hard time getting back in,” the woman said nervously.
Zac looked up and saw a boy in the water about 60 yards away.
Zac said he knew he had to do something. He looked at his wife who was staring back at him as if she knew what he was thinking.
“Go get him,” she said.
Zac frantically began taking off his shirt.
“You don’t have time,” Cindy said. “Go!”
Zac raced to the water. As he ran to the boy, he saw two teenagers with boogie boards. He was nervous they would try to help so he approached them.
“Give me your boogie board,” he said. “Go back now.”
When he finally reached the boy, he had already drifted about 120 yards from the beach.
Zac grabbed him and put the boogie board under the boy’s head to keep his mouth out of the water. He grabbed the boy close and began the swim back to shore.
They were only half way back when Zac realized he was not able to move any further because of the current.
“The life guards are out there somewhere,” Zac said to himself. “They’ll eventually come, so I’m going to keep his head above water and just wait it out.”
Cindy watched anxiously from the beach.
“That’s when I started to panic,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s not going to make it back in.’”
From the distance, Zac saw a lifeguard on a personal watercraft approaching them. Zac and the boy climbed aboard the lifeguard’s rescue sled and rode to shore.
“It took everything I had to hold on to him,” Zac said. “It was rough getting in. I bounced my face off the sled and I was bleeding.”
After a rough ride back, Zac and the boy finally made it to shore. Cindy ran excitedly to her husband.
“I wanted to make sure he was okay,” she said. “I was terrified and I was just so happy he was back.”
As she ran to him, Zac put up his arm to stop her.
“Nope, get out of the water,” he told her.
“I didn’t want to get blood on her because I knew how much that dress meant to her.”
First responders swarmed the beach, and EMS checked the boy for medical concerns.
The boy’s mother and many of the responders thanked Zac for his heroic efforts.
“I was just happy I was able to help,” Zac said.
Cindy said Zac has always been a selfless person.
“He’s just an amazing guy,” she said. “His heart is full of so much love.”
Zac’s rescue received national media attention, including a spot on Good Morning America.
“We want to take this opportunity to bring awareness to water safety,” Cindy said. “If it saves just one life, we’re happy.”
Zac and Cindy knew their wedding would be special, but they had no idea it would be this memorable and important.
“I didn’t know that the day that changed our family’s life for the better would also change another family’s life for the better too,” Zac said.