Talking Story: Modern Day Hero on Maui

CJ Westerberg, September 9, 2017 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, even declining our gesture of some monetary "reward" for his noble act.

How does one measure that?


   -  CJ Westerberg

Mahalo to a Hero

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 a Father's Day weekend. After living on Maui, Hawaii for a year, we had finally drove the infamous "Road to Hana" to visit the beautiful landscapes 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 localThai 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 on the North Shore of Maui.

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.

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 perfect day.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Art1.Ana.teresa.fernanadez.swimmingpng.pngOur teenage 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 in this downdraft vortex. It happened so fast. 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 ingested, everything got blurry)..
I actually had the thought what an idiot I was to get in this situation after all these years.

Then as suddenly, Hana Hank showed up out of no-where on his surf board like straight out of a movie scene. Unbelievable. 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 he 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, Caribbean with much larger waves but didn't realize how wave height and currents are not related; that little waves can have HUGE currents, and currents sometimes go straight down.

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. Imagine Husband (in a rare moment) shouting out most urgently, "I need help!" all while my drama is unfolding.

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 - 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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Over time and cultures, the most robust and effective form of communication is the creation of a powerful narrative.
Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
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