What happens when you muck up but you are the ‘face of something’?

Recently I was told a funny story that involved a sea rescue of a friend who happens to be an accomplished triathlete and kayaker. I guess you are thinking, ‘what’s funny about a rescue operation?’ but I can assure you certain related facts made this story quite amusing.
Firstly, the man at the centre of this event is a local legend for his fitness regime and his ability to continue to be the competitor to beat, regardless of his age (he is 63). Secondly, his years of winning and competing have earned him instant recognition throughout the area and even interstate and his name is synonymous with athleticism and fitness. Thirdly, this person has been made the ‘face of the water’ in his home town, promoting safety in and around the water and partnering with local government to remind the public how to be responsible when setting out for a day on the water.

The day of the rescue started with ‘Bob’ declaring he was going to venture out into the waves on a rented kayak on the central coast of NSW with his adult son. The rest of the family decided to walk along the jetty and enjoy the sunshine on foot. Unexpectedly Bob fell out of the boat and the waves picked up very quickly. He could not hoist himself back into the boat so a decision was made to swim to shore. In the meantime a person witnessing his efforts had decided to ‘help’ and had called the Sea Rescue team. Bob was meanwhile oblivious and was paddling to shore when he was met by two different boats – one was coastguard and the other search and rescue. What ensued was a heated discussion as to whose territory the swimmer was in. Neither party was willing to allow Bob to swim back in, they had a mission and nothing would stop them plucking this man from the water and ‘saving his life’. Bob stayed put in the water whilst phone calls were made so they could prove they were the rightful rescue party… Even though Bob was most definitely a reluctant rescuee. Finally, one if the parties admitted defeat and took off leaving Bob in the arms of the very chuffed second rescuers. All Bob could think of was how this would look to the public if word got out that he had gone out without a life jacket, a phone or anything else he had campaigned to educate the public about. He contemplated giving a false name but he instead discretely mentioned his role as a water ambassador and asked for some cooperation to keep the incident to themselves.
Back on shore Bob met up with his family and everyone had a bit of a chuckle of bob’s misfortune (to be rescued without needing to be). Bob decided not to give up on his morning water outing and he took the kayak into shallow waters to practise his ‘Eskimo-rolling’ (completing a 360 revolution by rolling with the kayak under the water, then righting oneself). As he was on his second roll he became aware that no matter how hard he pushed to the left he couldn’t budge the kayak to rotate. Unbeknown to Bob a man was above the water, frantically trying to roll the kayak over, but rolling to the right – the effect created a counter-force and consequently Bob wasn’t going anywhere. Eventually he came up, spluttering, confused and looking for answers. Instead he found a Good Samaritan saying, “you’re right mate, I got you, don’t you worry about a thing”. Poor Bob – he just wasn’t meant to be in the water that day. He returned home, tail between his legs, resigned that it just wasn’t his day.

A couple of months later Bob received a call from a coy journalist at the local paper asking him to comment on the sea rescue. Bob asked how on earth he found out. The journalist had been scanning other newspapers online for any interesting ‘good news’ stories and had come across the headline with Bob’s name firmly stated. Bob asked the journalist if he could understand his predicament and let the article slide but the enthusiastic replay came as, “mate, this is the scoop of the decade, no way I’m passing this up….” Poor Bob.

So, the question remains, what happens when one does ‘muck up’ and that person is the ‘face of’ or ambassador for something important? In this case Bob had never received any payment for his role promoting water safety. He was simply ‘giving back’ to his community. His situation could have been used to further educate the public as to how easy a situation seemingly within one’s control can change to being outside your control. Instead though, Bob’s actions would be scrutinised, perhaps ridiculed, and all because a journalist wanted to promote his own agenda, sell more newspapers for all the wrong reasons. Once journalism was a source of information dissemination. In this world of making a dollar without asking too many questions maybe we need to ask one important question: ‘what is the purpose of reporting something?’ In Bob’s case we had a good chuckle when he told us about his misfortune that day, but taken out of context, others would think he was incompetent or even unworthy of his ambassador role. I argue how unfair this would be. He was genuinely the recipient of bad luck, enough to cause embarrassment and for a good chuckle, not enough that it should discredit such a worthy cause.

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