Life Saver

September 18, 2013
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For Ryan Mathie, getting involved and helping others is “the right thing to do.”

Like when he traveled to Oklahoma to offer assistance after the Moore tornado inflicted its devastation. Or when he and several fraternity brothers joined Habitat for Humanity and spent the first week of the 2012 winter vacation building homes outside of New Orleans. Or when, as a Boy Scout, he raised more than $6,000 to help fund a “fan walkway” that connected the bleachers and concession stands for spectators at his high school.

His most recent humanitarian effort, though, is easily the most dramatic.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the BME/ECE double major was hanging out with friends at the beach at Robert Moses State Park on Long Island when he heard screams. Springing into action, Mathie swam out to a young girl who was in distress. After safely guiding her to a state parks police officer who’d arrived to help, he discovered this was a more critical matter than first appeared.

“She cried out, ‘Wait, where’s my friend,’” Mathie recalls. “I stood in chest deep water, scanning the horizon and searching for the other distressed swimmer. After what felt like an eternity, I finally saw something bob over a distant wave.”

As he located the second girl, he noticed something was wrong. He called to her, but she did not respond. Mathie, who is a certified lifeguard, took the unconscious 17-year-old under his arm and headed back to shore.

“I didn’t realize how far out we were; all I knew was that I had to get back. The officer met me again and we each grabbed an arm and started pulling her to shore.”

When they got there, emergency medical technicians attempted to revive the girl, who was subsequently airlifted to a local hospital. Several days later, the state parks police called Mathie to inform him that the girl, Bria Key of Brentwood, NY, was making what would be a full recovery after being hospitalized for several days in serious condition.

As he located the second girl, he noticed something was wrong. He called to her, but she did not respond. Mathie, who is a certified lifeguard, took the unconscious 17-year-old under his arm and headed back to shore.

The momentous day also made an impact on Mathie. “I left the beach that day the same way I came. I drove home alone―however, my mind was repeating what happened over and over. Today it still seems somewhat like a dream. But it’s not. I saved a life.” In July, his lifesaving efforts were recognized at a general session of the Suffolk County (N,Y,) Legislature.

Not all of Mathie’s community involvement is this eventful, but it is equally consequential. In Oklahoma, he handed out supplies to victims of the tornado and aided in cleaning up. And the fan walkway project was especially satisfying because he attained Eagle Scout for his efforts.

Mathie is also active locally. During B-Term last year, he volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and was paired with a third-grader from a Worcester elementary school. He plans to continue with the program this year.

Reflecting on his prolific community and humanitarian involvement, he says, simply, that it is the right thing to do. “Anyone can donate money, but it’s more worthwhile to donate your time. You should always want to help your neighbor.”

On campus, Mathie is a defensive lineman for WPI’s varsity football team. This year the team is participating in a new program that involves “adopting” a child with a life-threatening illness in an effort provide emotional support and strive to enhance his or her quality of life.

Currently a junior, Mathie hopes to work in the private sector after graduation, ideally designing biomedical devices—though, he says, “graduate school is also an option.”

― Mike D’Onofrio

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