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Volunteer crew member saves kayaker in heroic leapfrog rescue

Luc Strickland launched himself into the craziest stretch of the Green River Narrows Race course last week in North Carolina. His stunning body flop (shown at the three-minute mark in the above video) over Nick Fieldler's kayak was dead-on timing-wise to successfully rescue the struggling boater, who got dumped just before the notoriously treacherous Gorilla Rapids.

As the crowd chanted “swimmer,” signaling the next boater was already out of his kayak, spectator Gwendolyn Arvidson caught the remarkable “live bait” rescue on film, which went viral.

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"This one was ‘game on.’ The fact that he swam over Gorilla was not normal. We had to put our game face on," Strickland, a Georgia native who knows the section of river well and made about six other rescues that day, told GrindTV. At two-thirds of the way through the course, Gorilla comes when boaters are already fatigued.

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Lucas Strickland, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, made a heroic leap of faith to save a kayaker during the 20th running of the Green River Narrows Race in North Carolina on Nov. 7. Photo: Robert Giersch
The fact that Fieldler’s boat was pinned at the top of the Class V rapid, that he couldn’t get to shore in time and that he essentially swam Gorilla with nose plugs still on was bad enough, but Strickland says the consequences just downstream in the next set of Class Vs, ending in a rock ledge, could have been dire.

He performed a live-bait rescue. “I was the bait and the swimmer was the fish,” says Strickland, who volunteered for the race-safety crew and regularly works as a river ranger for Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/_w4GVgbtX1I” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe> “I know it seems scary, that my position seems crazy,” says Strickland of his spot in what’s called the “pit” below Gorilla, which he worked with good friend and crew member John Abercrombie. “But with a rope attached to me and someone attached to that rope who I trust, it's pretty foolproof. There's not a lot of chance of me getting injured.”

While the leapfrog move was instinctual, Strickland attributes his knowledge of the water for the timing. “I’ve spent so much time on the water. I know how fast things move,” he says. But rescuing swimmers is enough excitement for now.

“Gorilla has a huge technical entrance, followed by a big drop that lands on a shelf. Mathematically it doesn't add up for me,” he says. “It may be beyond my skill or comfort level, but for me it’s just a personal choice to walk it. Maybe someday, but probably not.”

As for Fieldler’s epic swim? He broke his tailbone and fractured two vertebrae, however later paddled out of the race course. It was either that or a long hike out, says Strickland.

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