By Lara Pickford-Gordon
When faced with a sudden life-threatening situation would you risk your life to save a stranger?
Fifteen-year-old Gregg Alejandro Mannette is among the people who can answer this question from his experience on April 7 when he pulled a drowning man from the sea to safety at No Man’s Land, Tobago.
Since then, he was applauded at his school, St Mary’s College, been called a hero, and received positive comments on social media. Looking back, how does he feel now?
“It is really a good experience, but it has given me the time to realise the weight of what I had done. I did not realise the impact it would have, not just on the doctor I saved, but to other people around me.”
Gregg, who is named after his father and known by the home name ‘Alex’ from his middle name Alejandro, a name of Spanish origin that means Defender of The People.
On the day of the incident, he was with his parents and uncle Ricardo ‘Ricki’ Laban, two aunts and a family friend. In all there were 11 persons including the children of the respective families. It was to be a leisurely outing at the beach enjoying each other’s company.
The lime almost did not happen as the original boat operator hired did not work out and another person happened to be available. While at the beach two party boats pulled up and its passengers got off. Laban was in the sea on Alex’s paddle board and monitoring his daughters at the shoreline, when he noticed a man bathing between the two boats struggling to stay above water.
“His wife said she was calling for persons and no-one responded. I was able to hear her. When I was swimming across there were people probably five, six feet from me on the boat just watching the man in the water…no-one should be in a helpless position. If the roles were reversed, we would want someone to help us,” Alex said in an interview on May 2.
The events unfolded so fast that even Alex’s parents were unsure of what was happening. Gregg said, “Alex was bathing with Narisha, and I did not have clear line of sight. Ricardo having clearer line of sight, paying attention to the children on shore realised the guy was in difficulty and called out to Alex. We did not hear or see what was going on.”
He added that Narisha, always alert to where Alejandro is in the water, began saying, ‘Where is he? He was just here?’ She continued, “it was literally just seconds, it just happened so quickly. I just turned to ask, ‘Where is Alex’ as we turned around, we saw him rescuing the guy. It was literally just seconds.” She did not even hear when her brother called out to him.
In the distance, they saw Alex assisting the man out of the water. When they hurried to shore, they saw the exhausted man bringing up water he ingested. “We wanted to make sure he was ok, his family was around him, our family was there so we were all concerned, so after he got adjusted… and stabilised, they put him on the boat to get him to hospital,” Narisha said.
The boat operator they came with commented that, “in a few second it would have a different scenario”. That experience altered the mood of the day. Narisha said it felt “surreal” and there were the questions “what if”.
“It just made things clearer that someone could have died at that point in time as well, so quickly. It was a moment for reflection for each person, children, and adults, and to say, ‘Thank God, it worked out well’,” Narisha said.
In an interview with Newsday published April 24 the doctor said he had to be on a ventilator overnight because of the amount of water that got into his lungs.
Alex said his take away from the experience was to be aware of one’s surroundings. “Always be prepared to do what you must…to just carry anything that would keep you safe because safety is of the utmost importance in a situation that could go bad.”
The Catholic shaping
Alex grew up in a “close-knit family structure”. The family bonds at events and attends Mass together at Santa Rosa RC. His Catholic faith shaped his outlook on helping others through, “going to Mass as much as possible with my family and learning the virtues and values of the religion as well as the teachings from my mom and dad and my extended family”.
Narisha was a catechist at the Santa Rosa RC; her sister is also a catechist, and niece, a junior catechist. The Mannettes have participated in their parish’s marriage preparation classes and Ministry Animation Team. Gregg is the outgoing Chair of the Santa Rosa RC’s finance committee.
They made the sacrifice to move from Arima in 2019 for Alex to do water polo training (he is hopeful of making the national team going to Barbados in July) at the Marlin’s swimming pool, Westmoorings. They continue to spend weekends with family in Arima and attend Mass.
Those who know Alex are familiar with his calm demeanour, “probably so calm, it’s scary,” he joked. It is this calmness rooted in his Catholic faith, along with quick action that helped him respond when necessary. He tapped into his water polo training which requires quick reactions and life-saving skills he learnt from young.
Gregg commented that Alex was not always a water polo player but through St Mary’s, this training contributed to “whole-person development” which involves the spiritual, physical and mind.
He believes Catholic schools must continue to play a supporting role because children spent a lot of time at schools, “especially now they are back out”.
Alex said his faith has made his outlook clearer. “I think that it is just being in-tune with everything, understanding where I am, where I want to be and where I am supposed to be.”
His father added that there is a trust that comes with the communal aspect of family life. “Trust in others yes, and as Narisha said trust in yourself that you are making the right decisions…he has the ability to make sound judgements for his age and that was a function of how he was brought up and his value system reflective of his belief.”
Alex met the doctor he saved about a week after that fateful day. He (the doctor) hugged him and said he was happy to see him and hugged him again. “From that hug, there was just so much energy and so much unspoken words and feelings. I was happy to know that he was smiling with his family all around him, and I was able to keep that family together,” he said.
The doctor’s wife and daughter were extremely grateful. The daughter was emotional as she thanked Alex for saving her father’s life. “That was a definite memorable moment for me,” he said in a contented tone.