“Life is a Daring Adventure …or it is Nothing.”—Helen Keller
Life is precious. We witness and celebrate the birth of a baby as a miracle, despite the fact that these miracles have been taking place for centuries.
The very act of breathing is something we often take for granted, even though it’s our life force, and without it we wouldn’t exist. It may only be when we realize that our next breath could be our last that we consciously value the gift—not only for ourselves but also for those we love—and long for a little more time.
I’ve often wondered what it is that makes some people willing to sacrifice their own life to save that of another? Is there a point where they weigh the potential consequences of an act and decide to take a chance, knowing that there may not be a second one? Or are some people simply wired to help—their altruistic actions so innate that they respond automatically—with no thought of the outcome?
Meet two heroes, for whom saving lives is just a natural part of what they do. Thanks to their bravery and natural instincts, several people have gotten to experience one more day.
To the Rescue: Appreciating Life
David Camacho, the buff, fifty-two-year-old owner of a popular bodybuilding gym in Gilroy, CA, was working out with a client and telling him about Jose and Trinidad, a couple in their sixties who were robbed just two weeks before, right in front of the local bank. Someone apparently knew that they cashed substantial checks from their business every Friday, and Jose, with cash in his hand, was stabbed outside the front door.
The couple, along with their children, ran a little food market directly across the street from David’s gym, although he didn’t shop there. He was aware that there had been a rash of robberies in the town, and that the police had been unable to catch the robbers.
Just seconds after he finished telling the story, David was standing by the front door with his client for a short break when he witnessed a rapidly unfolding scene across the street. “You won’t believe this,” he said. “They’re going to be robbed again!”
Jose, Trinidad, and their son, Nicando, were about to enter their store when a blue sedan pulled up. The driver jumped out holding a shotgun, which he pointed at Jose’s face, while a passenger and a man in the back seat remained in the car.
David knew from his experience with guns that a pump shotgun had a manual slide and would take a few seconds to work. He had a knee-jerk reaction—bolting through the open door, yelling loudly, as he ran as fast as he could toward the man holding the shotgun. David said, “The guy pointed it at me, but I was screaming and running hard at him, and in confusion, he jumped in the car and sped off.”
The car was abandoned a short time later, the robbers fled on foot, and they were apprehended a week later. David was given “The Good Egg” award by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce. Overnight, his reputation shifted from jock to courageous hero, although he was surprised to be singled out. “Anyone would do the same thing if given the chance,” he said.
When asked if he had experienced any fear, he replied, “You don’t think about it—you just jump in and help. I’ve saved the lives of others a bunch of times.” One of those instances involved a police officer who was being held down and beaten by an ex-con. No one stepped in to help. David had noticed that the ex-con had his gun unwrapped, and definitely had the upper hand. “I just jumped on both of them, which allowed the police officer to regain his position and save himself.”
“I’ve always been for the underdog,” he said. That often got him in trouble as he was growing up. “I’ve almost been killed numerous times—from stabbings, and once from trying to prevent the robbery of my van. I flirted with death a lot in the early days.”
Although David wasn’t considered a good student, he was, in fact, very creative. “My self-esteem was in the toilet. I never felt I was good enough.” But he later discovered that he excelled in one arena: As a competitive bodybuilder, his titles included Mr. Texas and Mr. Sacramento. Bodybuilding got him away from his hometown and earned him accolades and recognition. Life was good, and he was loving it.
One day, while David was in his early thirties, he was enjoying a rare afternoon fishing with his younger brother, Mike. David was accustomed to flat-bottom fishing boats, but not the angle and movements of their canoe. As he tried to walk across, it capsized, sending them both into the frigid water. The shore was 100 yards away, and the fiberglass canoe had already drifted about 90 feet away. They couldn’t swim to either.
I’m drowning, David thought, as his lungs filled up and the weight of his heavy shoes and jacket made him sink. He had an out-of-body experience in which he could actually see himself go down, thinking I can’t believe it. I’m not going to make it. He looked over at his brother, whom he loved, and was so sad that he couldn’t save him or himself.
All of a sudden, he heard a voice: “Remember all the times you tried to end your life? Just relax now.” David started to let go and submerge, but something made him resist. No. I’ve got more to do! He fought to get back up to the surface, and was overwhelmed with joy to see that the canoe had drifted sideways toward them. It was now within eight feet. “I started bawling like a baby when I realized that we would be saved,” said David. “My brother and I each held on to an end of the canoe and then side-kicked to shore. Once safely on land, we looked over to where we had almost drowned, and there was a beautiful rainbow reflected on the water.”
From that point on, David’s life seemed to take many different turns, all positively supporting his belief that things happen for a good reason. Eventually, he ended up back in his hometown, where serendipity led him to open his own bodybuilding gym. It became a way for him to help others and to do something meaningful with his life.
While he’s surrounded by huge photos of himself and plaques for the many competitive bodybuilding awards that he’s won, he said, “I don’t want to be that guy anymore. I get far more satisfaction supporting someone else’s rise to success.”
David focuses on helping others, especially the young boys who are drawn to his gym. He teaches them bodybuilding, and shares another of his passions: archery, for which he once earned an Olympic bronze medal as a member of Team USA.
He has mentored one young boy for 10 years and has just taken on another—a 14-year-old who, when he was younger, would walk by David’s gym, longing to work out there but unable to afford a membership. David’s happy to give him that opportunity now because he knows that by offering him an alternative to the gang activities that he’d been involved in, the teen would stand a good chance of changing his life. David feels that it’s a wonderful way to give back.
Jose, Trinidad, and their offspring have made David an honorary member of their family, inviting him to important occasions, where he is welcomed and frequently thanked for saving their father’s life.
At the most peaceful place in his life, David said: “I like myself, and the more I like myself, the more I can help others.”
Is David a man whom you would like to know or to emulate?
What would you have done if you were David and witnessed the harrowing scene before you?
What would motivate you to risk your own life to save another’s?
Calm, confident, and solid in both stature and character, A.J Hotchkiss is the kind of man to whom you could entrust your life—and in fact, many people have done just that. A.J. got an early start as a hero when he was nine years old. He was home alone with his mom when she went into shock and passed out. A.J. remained calm and did everything that he had learned through his Cub Scout training, while he waited for a doctor to respond to his emergency call. A.J. was later credited with saving his mother’s life.
When A.J. was a teen, he was allowed to ride around New York with his grandfather, a long-time fire chief, who investigated arson cases. Little did he realize that he would one day have an opportunity to fill those big boots.
Decades later, A.J. moved with his wife, Lenore, to a sparsely populated Colorado mountain community—about one family per forty acres. The town’s 23,000 residents were totally dependent on a volunteer fire department. Despite the demands of their growing real estate business, A.J. contributed 11 years with the department. While five of those years were in a paid position as chief, A.J. gave every cent back to his community.
Under A.J.’s command, two fire stations were designed and built with updated equipment, one of which was later dedicated as the “A.J. Hotchkiss Fire Station.” It wasn’t long before these stations were put to the test in a major way. Two days after A.J. retired, he was called in to take command of the Cedar Mountain fire, a huge fire caused by lightning. Despite the volatile conditions that threatened his community, within two hours A.J. had brought together a volunteer force of 84 people. In three long, hard days, they successfully stopped what would have been a major catastrophe.
Two months later, the Hayman Fire—which became known, at the time, as the biggest fire in Colorado’s history—started just a few miles away when a female Park Service employee carelessly burned a “Dear Jane” letter despite the extremely high risk of fire.
Because of incompatible radio frequencies, poor communication and incorrect information given to Forward Intelligence, the fire, which had started in nearby Park County, was greatly underestimated. The initial call went out to only a five-man crew. Since the fire started on federal property, A.J., who was a director of the Fire Board, wasn’t authorized to respond until it crossed his county’s lines. That didn’t happen for three days, and by then the fire was raging out of control.
With 1,800 people in the line of the fire, A.J., his group of volunteers, and the sheriff responded immediately, evacuating everyone safely. That wasn’t an easy task in an area that, because of its mountainous terrain, had no cell-phone or television reception. Only after the area was evacuated could they turn their full attention to fighting the fire.
“I spent 15 hours a day of the hardest 15 days that I’ve ever spent in my life fighting that fire,” A.J. said. “There were 11 firefighters—victims of the forced evacuations—bunking down in our home, along with numerous volunteers exhaustedly working on the front lines, and numerous evacuees, all needing to be fed 120 meals a day, given water and supported initially by an auxiliary team headed by my wife, Lenore.” AJ continued: “At our station, we quickly ran out of food, water, diesel fuel, gas and money. We begged and borrowed money for what we needed, and our community responded.”
There were even brief moments of humor throughout the ordeal. A.J. said: “Evacuating people with such short notice meant that most of them couldn’t evacuate their livestock. Wranglers were called in, which became a logistical nightmare. Real cowboys, yelling “yee haw” didn’t have much experience wrangling a thousand-pound pig! There was also one independent-minded mule that got loose and ran alongside the fire trucks, but no one could catch him.”
By the 15th day, the fire had already destroyed 113,000 acres of land. “It was unimaginable to be in the midst of a fire that size,” said A.J. There was no time to be afraid. His group, working tirelessly, was instrumental in keeping the fire at bay along a six-mile fire line. None of the homes in their area were lost.
After a lifetime of saving others, A.J. came close to losing his own life, after suffering a heart attack and before undergoing triple bi-pass surgery. He had looked at his loving wife of 30 years and simply said, “I’m going.” Fortunately, A.J. survived. “I’ve performed CPR many times and never thought I’d be on the receiving end,” he said. “ I died and even got to experience the tunnel and the light before being revived.” Upon his return, the first thing he said was, “I’m back. Now how do I get out of here?”
A.J. said the near-death experience gave him a whole new perspective on life. “Once you grasp your own mortality, it’s hard to look at other people in the same way. I now have a more relaxed, less critical, and more forgiving attitude toward others. After all, we’re all in this life together—we’re all born and we all die.”
Since then, A.J. has found a new way to contribute to his rural community. His early experiences with Internet communication were the inspiration for creating an online radio station called “The Voice of Teller County.” “Since most people don’t have very good radio signals here, it’s the perfect solution,” said A.J. with pride. “There’s not another system like it.”
He’s also created a sophisticated emergency-notification system that includes enhanced 911 services. Teller County will be the first to try out the new system, which will allow 6,000 calls a minute. Fire notification will be the top priority. “It’s critical to keep people informed,” A.J. said. “If communication can save lives—and I believe it can—then that’s what we’ll be doing.”
Have you ever been in a life-threatening situation or had a near-death experience?
What thoughts were going through your mind when survival seemed only a remote possibility?
In what way did the experience change your life?
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Linda Commito’s book Love is the New Currency. For more information visit www.loveisthenewcurrency.com.
Linda Commito, author, speaker, entrepreneur, consultant and teacher, is passionate about her vision to leave this world a kinder, more loving, and interconnected place. Her award-winning book of inspirational stories, Love is the New Currency, demonstrates how we can each make an extraordinary difference in the lives of others through simple acts of love and kindness. Linda believes that in order to inspire a kinder world the place to start is with children. She recently volunteered at a Title One elementary school, working with over 500 students, to create and facilitate “Kindness Starts With Me,” the results of which include a website (www.kindnessstartswithme.com) and a book for children. Also visit www.loveisthenewcurrency.com for more information and/or to sign up for an uplifting monthly newsletter.