BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Charles Hamlin, a 1968 Olympic rower, was reunited Saturday with the rescuers who saved his life this past summer after he went into cardiac arrest on Lake Whatcom.
Hamlin was out training at the lake on Saturday, June 2. He knew he needed to get back to shore to help dedicate the Susan Hirst, a new four person shell that's named in honor of a woman who died a while back. She was an integral part of the master's rowing program.
"I, along with a couple of other people that are here in the group, got into the boat and off we went," Hamlin said Saturday.
About half-way into the shell's first voyage, Hamlin collapsed.
"Half-way back, with no warning, I’ve never had any symptom of heart failure or any problem of sclerosis or anything. I completely and utterly collapsed," he said.
"We were within 30 feet of the boat, and I saw Charlie lean back and I looked at him and I go, ‘Oh, that’s bad.’" said Tony Robinson, a firefighter and Hirst's son-in-law. He happened to be on a nearby coaches boat.
Robinson quickly realized Hamlin was likely having a heart attack and performed chest compressions for 17 minutes before a team got Hamlin to shore and rushed him to the hospital.
"It’s one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done," Robinson said with a chuckle.
The team's quick action allowed Hamlin to get back out on the water several weeks later without any heart damage.
On Saturday, he awarded several of his gold medals from a recent competition in Florida to the team that saved his life.
In some way, Robinson believes his mother-in-law helped make that happen.
"It’s what she would have wanted. She would have wanted me to do my best," Robinson told KOMO News while holding back tears. "Having her there and knowing that this is something that she would have been very proud of, it means a lot."
He and the others who stepped in to help were in the right place at the right time, he said.
It’s the reason that Hamlin is still here.
"For many, it’s a thankless job, you know? And by that I mean – people don’t thank them enough. People aren’t appreciative enough," Hamlin told KOMO News.
Firefighters say everything that happened is a good example of why it’s so important to be trained in CPR. You never know when those skills will be needed, Robinson said.
Hamlin’s next big competition will be in Amsterdam in early March.