Wit & Wisdom

Game Changers & Tales of Triumph and Woe

Talking Story: Drowning Doesn't Just Happen to Kids . . . Hana Hank Saved a Family

CJ Westerberg, July 31, 2013 4:29 AM


"And someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear
you almost had your hooks in me, didn't you dear
You nearly had me roped and tied,
Altar-bound, hypnotized,
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear,
You're a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, High away, bye bye"
--Elton John

This is dedicated to Hana Hank as a reminder to all  that just maybe grades, scores, and yes,  badges and data points don't define a person. Hank saved my family's life (along with others) not to earn a badge or a credential.  He wanted nothing in return, not even a kind offering of money for a nice dinner out.

How does one measure that?


   -  CJ Westerberg

Drowning just doesn't happen to kids

DSC_0163-1_2.jpgby C.J. Westerberg

Someone saved my life.
My husband's life. 
The trajectory of our daughter's life.
No kidding.  Real stuff.
Imagine a whole family wipe-out.
His name is Hank.  We found out his name is Hank Gaskell,  known as Hana Hank. You can check out his video below (along with Elton John's Someone Saved My Life Tonite.

It happened during Father's Day weekend in 2013.  After living on Maui, Hawaii, for  a year we finally experienced the infamous "Road to Hana," and the beautiful town of Hana itself.  It turned out to be quite an experience.

We were having, not surprisingly, perfect weather, a wonderful drive with waterfalls and then lunch at the local inexpensive/great Thai Shack, thinking that just an afternoon plunge at one of the beaches minutes away
would be a refreshing respite before the curvy mountainous journey back, to our home in Haiku.

This kind of itinerary is what makes Maui a wow.

"Which beach?  Oh, that one, no.  That one, yes, let's do
that one  . . . "  was our family negotiation that relaxed day.

We picked one. We also missed the warning sign, but in hindsight, would it have meant much?  Hmmm. We were,after all, really good swimmers, at home with the water.

Well, despite the sign we missed, which warned about dangerous currents, our family of three jumped in to the surf along with some adults and young kids on boogie boards and surf boards. It was an absolutely beautiful beach and day.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Art1.Ana.teresa.fernanadez.swimmingpng.pngOur 15-year daughter and I went 40 feet out since the water was barely up to our knees trying to catch a little wave and then suddenly 40 feet became 50 feet out BUT suddenly, there was NO bottom. 

Worse, the bottom had a current that SUCKED you not only OUT but  . . . DOWN UNDER.
(photo left: Art1.Ana Teresa Fernandez)

I got caught.  Nothing like I ever experienced in my life.

My daughter, who I could see and hear, in mili-seconds, said "SWIM, I am OKAY!"

Then, I saw Daughter swim much closer to shore toward safety and cry out to a surfer on a board, "I'm Okay, Get my MOM." How about that line imprinted on your brain?

All I could see was that Daughter was well inland but I swallowed so much water and just got so tired suddenly so fast . . .

Blurb . . . Blur.

(lots of sea water drunk, everything getting blurry)
I actually thought what an idiot I was to get in this situation after all these years.

Honestly, it seemed like Hana Hank showed up out of no-where on his board.  He got me on his board right away and told me me to paddle back to the beach.  I could hear my daughter shout "paddle, paddle" . . . My arms  took me nowhere as the current was relentless, and I thought what happened with all that tennis exercise? 

HANK realized my arms were not doing it so HANK somehow PUSHED me toward the rocks to the left of the beach which was brilliant.  How Hank pushed me with that current, I have no idea.

I am an athlete but this sea was different. I swam on the Jersey shore, Long Island, Carribean with waves but didn't realize how wave height and currents are different animals- that little waves can have HUGE currents.

The second half of the story - why Hank had to push me toward the low-lying yet safe rocks: Hana Hank realized that while trying to save ME, he also was seeing simultaneously that my husband - who went in to save my daughter and me -  was going down in the same vortex I got caught in.  Husband (in a rare moment) admitted shouting out most unequivocally, "I need help!" 

So, here you have Hank getting me somewhere safe within seconds while going after another adult within seconds and few minutes. Talk about thinking on your feet without any ground (in fact, husband thinks Hank went all the way down to the sea bottom to get enough momentum to push off from the bottom to push husband forward). 

Hank understood the water, the currents, the rocks, and apparently the corporate world vs. his understanding of it through his sponsorship (another story). 

He understood how to literally save two adult lives, possibly three, so calmly, so caringly, without one ask in return.  And while we tried . . . Hank was, "please, don't even ask."

Mahalo, Hana Hank.   

Hank is our family hero. Here on Maui.

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The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.
Alvin Toffler
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