Michael Grady Dies a Hero

August 3rd, 2009 by

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TampaBay.com
Mike Simmonds has coached football for 17 years and played offensive line for the Bucs before that, but when he thinks of courage and toughness, he now thinks of Mike Grady, standing in the cold waters of a North Carolina river.

It has been a month since Simmonds stood on the banks of the Cullasaja River, since he reached a big hand out and pulled a freezing 12-year-old boy from the water. Every day since, he has thought about the boy’s father, who died in that same river to save his son’s life.

“Mike Grady is a true hero because he gave his life to save his son,” Simmonds said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

• • •

Simmonds, 44 and entering his third season coaching the offensive line at USF, recounts the day as if it were yesterday, walking around his office, acting out his initial helplessness and frustration, reaching his arms out as he did June 28.

He was halfway through a two-week vacation in the North Carolina mountains with his family. They set out that morning with sandwiches packed and cameras ready, hoping to catch four waterfalls along Highway 64.

The family arrived at the second falls — Upper Cullasaja Falls, known to locals as “Bust Yer Butt Falls” for the dark algae that makes the long, flat rocks slicker than ice, allowing visitors to slide down the falls in some spots.

Walking to the river, Simmonds looked up at the falls and saw people standing on the banks, yelling to more people in a waist-high pool of water between the levels of the falls.

“Something’s not right up there,” he told his wife, Jamie, and he hurried perhaps 75 yards up the bank to the falls.

He saw Mike Grady, a 52-year-old accountant from Maitland, a father of two, a coach in Little League and Pop Warner and a Cub Scout leader, standing over his son, Austin, whose leg was lodged under a large rock, his head barely above water as the falls poured down around him.

Grady’s body shielded his son from the oncoming torrent, water pounding his back as another man steadied him from the side. Bystanders on the far banks tried in vain to throw a rope to put around Austin but couldn’t reach him. Others who tried to go out in the water were swept downstream past the Gradys.

For 25 minutes or more, the rescue efforts continued with frustratingly little progress. Two paramedics arrived, only to slip and fall into the water. Firefighters arrived, and one was able to relieve the man holding Grady as he kept his son above water.

Grady was able to get a rope under one of Austin’s arms, and he and others pulled and pulled, trying to dislodge him. Austin finally came free, but as he was being pulled up a large rock in the water, he slipped away from the rope.

Simmonds saw him fall into “a cauldron of water, swirling around,” and he quickly made his way toward him.

• • •

Simmonds crawled out along a large, flat rock, reaching out as far as he could without going over a second set of falls.

“I just reached out and grabbed his left wrist,” he said. “I didn’t say nothing to him, but I knew I had him good.”

He heard another rescuer call to him and said it sounded like God was talking to him: “Don’t let him go. He ain’t got nothing left.”

Simmonds got a foothold, steadied himself and hauled himself and Austin up the rock and away from the river. “Pulled him so hard I pulled his shorts right off,” he recalled.

They got to paramedics a few feet away, and Simmonds held the boy’s head in his hands for a moment.

“That’s the way to fight, boy,” he told him. “I ain’t ever seen nobody fight like that. You made it.”

Austin’s body was blue from the cold, his leg badly bruised, and when paramedics asked him where he hurt, he said, “Everywhere.”

Simmonds lay on the side of the river, emotionally exhausted. He looked back to the river and saw that Grady, who had helped pull his son loose, was now trapped in the same part of the river.

Rescue units cleared the area as they tried to save Grady from the water. Despite their efforts, he died in the river, physically spent from saving his son.

“He didn’t have a whole lot left to try to get himself out of there with their help,” said Simmonds, who watched for an hour with Grady’s family. “We watched a heroic effort, the whole thing from start to finish. The one consolation is that the way Mr. Grady was positioned, I know he saw Austin get out. He knew he saved his son.”

• • •

Simmonds has written to the Grady family, expressing his sadness that he wasn’t able to do more, to help save two lives that day instead of only one.

“I wish I could have done more. It’s frustrating knowing everybody didn’t get out,” Simmonds said. “God was there that day, giving Mike and the rescuers the strength to get the young man out. We saw a miracle that day. It’s something my family will never forget, and we want to do something to help them out.”

USF football sent a care package to the Grady family last week, and the Bulls have invited the Gradys to attend a home football game this fall if their schedule allows.

Simmonds’ only reason in speaking publicly about the rescue was the hope that Bulls fans would follow his lead and do something to help the Grady family.

“Hopefully the South Florida community will reach out and help this family through the trust funds,” said Simmonds, who was head coach at Jefferson High for eight years before joining USF as a graduate assistant in 2006. “It’s the least we can do for someone who is a true hero. And Austin’s courage, through the whole thing, was amazing.

“In his life, it’s not ever going to get tougher than that for him, and I think it will give him a lot of strength.”

On Saturday, Simmonds drove to Winter Park and was able to see the Gradys for the first time since that Sunday in North Carolina. He went to lunch with some of Grady’s closest friends, met with Austin and his 9-year-old brother, Tyler, and spoke with their Little League team that Grady had coached. Jake Sims, who lives in Winter Park and is expected to be USF’s starting center, joined Simmonds and signed autographs for the young players.

The experience has brought Simmonds closer to his own family — “your kids are your life,” he said — so there are more hugs for his three daughters, more appreciation for everyday things he won’t take for granted.

“It’s with me all the time, and probably always will be,” Simmonds said. “It was a happy ending and a sad ending, all in the same note. Those young men have to know how much their dad loved them, what he did for them. It’s a special family that has a lot to be proud of.”


15 Responses

  1. Ashley Howell

    My heart and prayers go out to this family. I listened to this story on my way to work this morning. By the time I got to work, tears were running down my face and goose bumps covered my body. I hope the Bubba Nation community and anyone who hears this story will step and and help this family. My son is two years old and I can’t imagine him growing up without his daddy. I pray that God helps this family.

  2. Christina

    What a heartbreaking story, being the mother of a 9 year old I always say that I would do anything even give my own life to protect my son and when you hear a story like this you just realize how quickly life can change and something you can just casually say can actually become reality. My heart goes out to this family, it just makes you want to go and hug your kids and family and let them know how much they are loved!

  3. Tommy B

    see,.. its not all about tits and ass,… its about real life!! great story on the site guys!! hope to hear the story tonight on the 1am replay.

  4. David Bannon

    I listened to this on Bubba’s replay on Howard 101 this afternoon, and had to stop the car for the tears I had in my eyes. I have a 3 year old son, and any parent out there I think would agree that they would lay down their life for their child, but seldom do we hear about someone who did. At a time when a boy needs his father the most, he was there for a final act of protection. Now, more than ever he can at least take with him the comfort that his father died for him in order so he can live. I hope his son goes on to be a successful football player and enjoys life and always remembers his father in a positive light.
    The Bubba army needs to rally behind Mrs. Grady to do what they can to help her get through this.

  5. 08-03-09 Monday | Bubba the Love Sponge® Show

    [...] Monday August 4th, 2009 by Staff Top Stories: Michael Grady Dies a Hero Mystery of missing Gulf War aviator solved South Florida parishioners pray to save Catholic [...]

  6. Chris W

    Great story. I missed it on Bubba but glad to read it here. Tearing up now. I don’t have kids and probably never will. But would gladly trade my life for kids if I had them. That’s what this dad did. If he’s not getting first class treatment upstairs, then none of us will!

  7. ROBIN STALLINGS

    I heard the story the other day and it brought teares to my eyes. I have kids of my own and I would have done the same thing. Thats being a parent the for love you have for them is like no other you would anything to help them even it takes giving your own life.

  8. Walter Wood

    I grew up in the same neighborhood as Mike Grady back in Texas and it does not surprise me that he risked and then gave his own life saving his son. He comes from a very nice family and the values the he was taught by his wonderful parents obviously stayed with him. My heart goes out to his wife Lisa and their two children Austin and Tyler.

  9. Pokie Duplantis

    Mike was like a cousin to me, our fathers grew up together, therefore our families were always doing things together. I was saddened by the news of his death, but proud to have known him. He did indeed die a hero trying to save his son. He will be missed by all who knew him. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and son’s.

  10. smitty

    Mr Grady is a true hero. I have a 4 year old boy and can not imagine being in his position. I love my son with all my heart and it reminds all of us how our life can change in as little as 5 minutes. Thank you BTLS for bringing this story to your listeners, because nobody heard about it on the news. your show provides more than t & A. it provides us, the listeners with real life news. I love my Bubba Mud flaps

  11. Jeff corrigan

    A very touching story. It makes me realize what it means to be a true hero!
    I call on all MMA fighters, boxers and kixkboxers to step up and help out this family.
    Although Mike is not here to fight for his family anymore, we can all fight for him.

  12. Ben

    Bubba and the guys are so quick to jump on most people for bad parenting and being white trash (i.e. the snake song). Why were these people in the water under a waterfall? Why did this father allow his 11 year old son to go into the water anywhere near “bust your butt falls”? It’s a sad story. But why would you parody the tragic death of a toddler by a snake owner, and do the total opposite for a man who sends his child into a waterfall? If your going to call out bad parents, call em out. If you want to help them, help them, but be consistent.

  13. Dan

    Ben, You are a JACKASS

  14. sean

    My eyes are filled with tears for this family. RIP my dude!

  15. sean

    F Ben!

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