OKALOOSA ISLAND -- Nickolas Clarke never thought he would save someone from drowning twice in his life, let alone in the same location. But while visiting the beach on Labor Day with his family, he and another bystander jumped in the rough water to save a young boy.
"You would never expect in a million years for that to happen again," Clarke said. "It happens quick; you either do something or you don't."
Although Clarke retired in 2015, his military training and instincts stayed intact and helped him save yet another person this week.
It was about 3 p.m. Monday and red flags were flying as strong rip currents formed ahead of Tropical Storm Gordon. Clarke was sitting on the beach with his two children when he heard a lady yell for help.
"She was screaming 'Somebody help my kid,' " Clarke said. "I looked over and that's when I saw him out pretty far. I saw just a head in the waves."
Without hesitation, Clarke and Sgt. Cody Patterson, an airman from Eglin Air Force Base, jumped in the water and grabbed the boy. They struggled to keep their heads above the waves and went under several times, but kept the boy's head above the water.
By the time the men were able to stand, lifeguards had arrived and helped them to shore. Firefighters examined the boy and released him back to his family.
Monday was a busy day for lifeguards on Okaloosa Island, according to Okaloosa County Beach Safety Division Chief Rich Huffnagle. Although there were only two rescues, the lifeguards spent the day explaining to people on the beach the hazards of the rip currents.
Moments before Clarke and Patterson's rescue, lifeguards pulled another person from the water nearby.
Clarke is still recovering from a broken neck, dislocated shoulder and injured back he received in an accident while in the Army. Monday's rescue left him with back pain, but he said it was all worth it.
"Even if I had one leg and a missing arm, I'd still go out there," Clarke said.
This article is written by Alicia Adams from Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.