Unheralded hero: Young man’s heroics saved another man’s life
Post Independent Staff
Would you risk your life to save someone else’s?
Few of us know the answer to that question. It’s hard to know how people would react until they are put in that situation.
Josh Paine learned the answer earlier this year. Paine plucked a near-drowning man from the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs during spring runoff. The act went unheralded at the time, but Paine’s younger brother, Trevor, later wrote the Post Independent to suggest that Paine’s heroics be properly recognized.
“With all of the negative publicity that young people tend to get in our society I thought it would be cool to run a positive story about a selfless act that saved a man’s life,” he wrote.
Looking back now, Josh Paine can’t imagine behaving any differently than he did that day.
“There wasn’t any thought that seemed to go into it. It just had to be done,” he said.
Paine is a tall, thin and soft-spoken young man with a neatly trimmed beard. He is married and has an infant child, and has worked in a variety of jobs, teaching skiing, laboring in construction, guiding rafts, and now delivering appliances for the Rifle Sears store owned by his in-laws. He also builds and plays guitars, as part of a musical family that includes his parents, April and Don Paine of Glenwood Springs.
Josh Paine recounted the river rescue as his wife, Matney, tended to their son Cameron in the home they rent in downtown Glenwood Springs. Cameron wasn’t even born yet when his father plunged into the cold Colorado to rescue a man he didn’t know.
The Paines were walking with Josh’s brother Trevor in the Two Rivers Park area when they and others saw the man floating down the river without a life jacket.
“He wasn’t trying to swim anymore. He was making noise but if wasn’t clear if he was trying to call for help or whatnot,” Paine said.
The man was closer to the south riverbank by the railroad tracks, so Paine got onto the tracks, crossed the trestle over the Roaring Fork River and raced ahead of the man before jumping into the water.
“I had to get way ahead of him, the water was moving so fast,” Paine said. “I timed it well enough I did end up meeting up with him.”
Paine grabbed the man and began swimming for shore, and later began pushing him, swimming to him and pushing again until they made it out of the water.
“He kind of rolled half his body up on the shore. He was out for a good two minutes where he didn’t even move. He was just breathing.”
But as the man regained his strength and wits, he expressed his gratitude to Paine.
“He was conscious enough after a couple of minutes that he gave me a big hug. He was really grateful that there was someone there, I think. … He just didn’t have any help out there.”
The man, a Latino, could speak only broken English, and the Paines never learned his name or how he ended up in the river. He had reeked of alcohol, and the Paines surmise he may have been soaking in the hot pots by the Hot Springs Pool and decided to try to swim in the river.
Paine estimates he was in the water for maybe three minutes while rescuing the man.
“It was a long time from my perspective,” said Matney, who was a month away from delivering their baby at the time.
Rescuers arrived shortly Paine had pulled the man to safety. But within perhaps 15 minutes after the incident began, everyone went their separate ways and it was almost as if it never happened, the Paines said.
But not entirely. Some children who live near Paine like to call him a hero when he comes walking by.
Paine’s wife contemplates to this day how no one else reacted to the man in the river but her husband. Paine said a lot of the other bystanders were kids or older people, and might not have felt comfortable risking their lives in the fast-moving water. Paine said he might not have felt comfortable himself had he not recently taken up swimming so he could do laps with his wife, who swam competitively in high school.
He said he hesitated for a second about whether to attempt a rescue, but when Matney told him the man looked as if he were in trouble, Paine took off running.
“I did not know that he could run that fast,” his brother wrote.
Paine said he never feared for his own safety, but just worried about whether he could get the man to shore while fighting the strong currents in the runoff-swollen river.
Speaking from the perspective of a mother, Matney is proud of her husband for saving the life of some woman’s son.
“Like Josh’s mom said, ‘He’s somebody’s baby,'” Matney said, cradling Cameron in her arms.
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
Name: Josh Paine
Hometown: Westmoreland, N.H. (near Keene, N.H.)
How long in Garfield County: 13 years
Favorite place in Garfield County: No Name Creek and Grizzly Creek, and the loop trail connecting them.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.