News Provincial

Marathon runner rescues capsized canoeists from icy Ottawa River

By Andrew Duffy, Postmedia Network

Teachers Lisa and Brian Schmidt were running along the Ottawa River Pathway on Sunday when they saw two men in a canoe tip into the swollen river. Brian Schmidt risked his life to rescue them from the ice-cold water.

Teachers Lisa and Brian Schmidt were running along the Ottawa River Pathway on Sunday when they saw two men in a canoe tip into the swollen river. Brian Schmidt risked his life to rescue them from the ice-cold water.

A high school teacher training for the Ottawa Marathon risked his life early Sunday afternoon to pluck two capsized canoeists from the ice-cold flood waters of the Ottawa River.

Brian Schmidt, athletic director at Woodroffe High School, was running with his wife, Lisa, along the Ottawa River Pathway just west of the Champlain Bridge when they saw two men in a red canoe, paddling hard in the wind and waves. They were not wearing life jackets.

“Brian, these guys are idiots,” Lisa Schmidt, who’s also a teacher, said to her husband.

He agreed: “This is not going to end well,” he said. The canoe then started going sideways, and as Schmidt looked over his shoulder, he saw it tip into the river.

They ran to the scene. Both canoeists were in the water. The older of the two men — Schmidt thought he was in his 60s — was clinging to a tree branch about eight metres from shore; the younger man was closer, but tangled in some roots.

Schmidt helped the man closest to him to reach shore then turned back for the second canoeist, who was starting to panic: “I’m going to die. I’m going to die!”

Schmidt waded out to him and thought he could take one or two strokes in the water to reach him. “But the water was so strong and so cold, I thought, ‘I could be dragged down the river or he really could die,'” Schmidt said.

He decided to stay on his feet. Someone passed Schmidt a life-jacket recovered from the beached canoe. He tried to reach out to the man, but it was no use: the life-jacket was too flimsy. So Schmidt waded chest-deep into the water to get closer.

“If he reached out to me and missed, he was done: He had no strength left. He was frozen,” Schmidt said.

Unable to feel his own legs, Schmidt knew he had to act fast, but the man continued to cling to the branch with both hands.

“You have to do this now, dude, now,” he implored. “Let’s go, buddy, let’s go. You’ve got one shot.”

When Schmidt yelled, ‘Go!,’ the man let go of the branch. “I got hold of his arm, pulled him in and wrapped him up in my arms,” said Schmidt.

The men struggled ashore just as an ambulance approached.

Schmidt was so cold that he told the two men that he had to continue his run to warm up. Schmidt and his wife — then about 20 kilometres into their 30-kilometre run — completed their training. “I couldn’t feel my legs,” he said.

Lisa Schmidt said she was worried when her husband was up to his chest in the fast-flowing water, but she knew the canoeist wouldn’t survive until a boat arrived. “I seriously think he would have died if we hadn’t been there,” she said.

Schmidt never did find out the names of the two men he rescued.

 “No one should have been on the water,” he said. “They took a huge risk.”