The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
It was a nice toss by any standard.
But a 50-foot ringer by a 6-year-old Milton boy standing in a kayak borders on the miraculous, especially when it may have saved a man's life.
Vacationing in Destin, Fla., with family and friends this summer, J.C. French was about to head back to shore with his mother, Lisa French, when he heard something farther up the shore. His mother, who was hanging over the side combing the shallows for sand dollars, heard nothing.
"Mom, that man needs help," J.C. said, spotting a figure foundering about 50 feet away near the shallows.
Lisa French could see or hear nothing from her location on the other side of the kayak. Nevertheless, she told her son to throw him a life jacket.
"It was so far," she said. "He was in the kayak and it was right to him. I could have done nothing because I was in the water, clutching the kayak. I couldn't stand."
The man grabbed the life jacket and was helped to shore by J.C., his mother and another kayaker.
"We never saw him again," Lisa French said. "He was in his late 50s, and he wasn't in terrible shape. His wife came up and said ‘thank you' afterward, and that he was a pretty good swimmer."
J.C.'s dad, Jimmy French, said he had been swimming earlier, so he was relaxing on the shore when all the excitement was happening.
"I was on shore, hanging out, totally oblivious to what had happened until they came back," he said. "I didn't really realize what was going on until they got to the shore and I saw them helping that man."
The man went up and sat with his family.
"He was visibly shaken, you could tell," Jimmy French said. "Then [J.C.] ran up there and gave him one of his sand dollars that he'd found while he was out there."
The Frenches discussed it with some of their friends that evening but thought little more about it until their Destin neighbor, Ted Arthurs, got ahold of the story.
"He told us ‘Somebody's got to hear about this,' " Lisa French said.
So Arthurs wrote his own article and submitted it to the local newspaper, and the story spread. No one was ever able to track down the rescued man.
J.C., now 7, was honored recently with the Good Citizens Medal from the Sons of the American Revolution. The ceremony, held before the Milton City Council, included pictures and handshakes all around.
"You make Milton proud," Mayor Joe Lockwood told the boy.
Afterward, J.C. reflected on the incident with reporters and Milton residents.
He said he could tell immediately that the man was in trouble.
"I was thinking I should throw the life jacket and he would catch it and he would be safe," J.C. said.
How does he account for the perfect throw?
Well, Little League baseball wasn't much help, he said. He's a catcher, not a pitcher.
"It was luck," he said.
Lisa French still finds it incredible.
"I told him ‘Throw him your life jacket,' " she said, "and he listened for once."