It was a picture-perfect wedding: a couple saying their “I dos” on a white sandy beach, with the Gulf of Mexico stretching to the horizon behind them.
But while Zac Edwards and his new wife Cindy were posing for photographs, a disaster was unfolding in the background.
In the end, Edwards had to cut the photo session short, but you’ll understand why Cindy had no complaints about interrupting her big day.
Edwards is a Coast Guard member stationed in Mobile, Alabama, while Cindy is a sales manager.
Just after finishing their wedding ceremony on the scenic Orange Beach, the couple posed for photos on the sand.
That’s when a stranger approached the couple and said someone was drowning out in the water.
“They told us that guy’s struggling a little bit and he can’t get back,” Cindy remembered.
In fact, it was much worse than it sounded. Jamelle Robinson, 18, was being dragged further and further from the beach by strong currents, clinging to his boogie board to survive.
It was a red flag day, when swimmers are advised to stay in the shallows or avoid the water entirely because of the drowning risk.
Lifeguards were busy rescuing another swimmer, and Edwards knew Robinson was running out of time.
“I wasn’t going to let him drown,” Edwards said simply.
And don’t think for one second that Cindy was a “bridezilla” about the interruption. She actually urged him to hurry into the water.
“She said don’t worry about your pants, just go,” Edwards said, “so you gotta listen to your wife – because otherwise you’re in trouble.”
The rescue wasn’t as easy as swimming out, grabbing Robinson, and dragging him in.
The teenager was struggling to keep his head above water, repeating “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” over and over.
Both men were trapped “half a football field” away from shore, and Edwards was getting nervous.
“The current was really strong and it was stopping us coming in any further. I was starting to panic slightly. The pants were making it hard to kick too,” he remembered.
“But when I saw the first responders I knew it was going to be okay. A jet ski came out to us and I managed to wedge him up onto it.”
Edwards says they had both been “beat up” by harsh surf, and he was dragged back to the beach soaked and bleeding. But he only thought of his new bride.
“I’m trying to tell her to get away because I know how important that dress was,” he said. “I didn’t want it wet.”
Despite the emergency, Edwards says his wedding was “a perfect day,” and Cindy agrees.
“I got a hero and a hubby on the same day,” she said. And the couple still made it to their reception despite the harrowing detour.
“Our guests were completely lost when we arrived at the reception. I was soaking wet and my dress was covered in sand,” Cindy said.
The newlyweds want to remind swimmers to keep out of the ocean when they see red flags flying on the beach. Robinson was lucky to survive, and start his year as a high school senior soon after.
“I didn’t think that the day that changed my family’s life for the better would change another family’s life for the better too,” said Edwards.