A lot of us find heroes in the world of sports.
Today we have a story from 44 years ago, in which an athlete stepped outside of his sport and did something heroic and extraordinary.
This is the story of Shavarsh Karapetyan, who by the age of 23 had set 10 world records and won numerous championships in finswimming.
On this day in 1976, Karapetyan was out for a training run in his hometown of Yerevan, Armenia, when he heard an enormous crashing sound.
A trolleybus had not only gone off the road, it had gone into Lake Yerevan and began sinking below the surface.
Karapetyan said later, “I knew that it wouldn’t be right if the world’s fastest underwater swimmer was there and didn’t even try to help.”
So he dove into the cold water, located the bus, and realized the only way he could get to anyone inside was to smash open a window.
He used his legs to kick the window out, cutting his leg in the process.
Still, he began pulling people who were trapped in the bus to safety above water, handing them to his twin brother Kamo, who had come to the scene to help.
He saved at least 20 of the passengers who were trapped on that bus, though he put his own life at risk to do it.
Karapetyan suffered permanent lung damage from the cold, dirty lake water.
He had a fever of 104 and pneumonia in both lungs, and spent nearly a month in the hospital.
And for all that, he got no public recognition at first.
Armenia was part of the Soviet Union back then, and the authorities didn’t want people to know that their trolleybus had crashed.
Karapetyan would eventually be recognized for his efforts six years later, but by then he was already a public hero, after having resumed his training and setting an 11th world record in finswimming.
Some people just do what needs to be done.
Since we’re talking about swimmers today, here’s a shout-out for Mieko Nagaoka, who in April 2015 set a world record by becoming the first 100-year old swimmer to finish the 1,500 meter freestyle race, in about an hour and sixteen minutes.
You get there when you get there.
The Plunge (Grantland)
Photo from Sealle via Wikicommons/Creative Commons