A Paso Robles woman who risked her own life to save the lives of two strangers off a Cambria shore two years ago learned Monday she will receive the Carnegie Medal.
Catharina “Cat” Rowley, 35 — an experienced swimmer with a little lifeguard training — dashed into the waves at Cambria’s Shamel Park Beach on June 30, 2008, to rescue two foundering non-swimmers, a 22-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl.
Rowley had been taking photos of big surf, she told a Tribune reporter at the time, when she noticed the water getting rougher.
“It’s getting a little crazy out there,” she remembered saying.
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She saw a fully dressed woman rush into the water, then retreat when the water got too deep.
Rowley spotted two people beyond the surf line.
“I saw their heads bobbing up and down,” she said. “I took off my skirt, and started swimming after them.”
She made her way about 150 feet offshore, where both threw their arms around her neck. The little girl “kept saying ‘Help me, help me. I’m too young to die.’ ”
Rowley towed the girl, with the man holding on to the girl, to shore. Both were taken to a hospital, then released with no injuries.
The Carnegie Hero Fund was founded in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie. Since then, the fund has awarded 9,391 medals and about $32 million to help rescuers or their survivors, according to fund spokesman Dennis Chambers.
Recipients of the prestigious honor are selected by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
“Every case awarded the medal is a singular example of someone risking his or her life to an extraordinary degree,” Chambers said.
The commission receives thousands of nominations each year.
Rowley should receive her 3-inch custom bronze medal in a couple of months, and a grant of $5,000.
Rowley has her own notary public business, OneWay Signing. Her husband, Dennis Rowley, manages Cuesta College’s paramedic program. Their children are D.J., 15, Nathan, 11, and Christian, 5.
Rowley said the reality of getting the medal hadn’t quite sunk in yet.
“I’m definitely honored. I never expected anything from it (the rescue), so it’s kind of a shock.”
“I was very surprised that someone would risk their life to save strangers,” said the State Parks ranger who responded to the rescue scene.
Leander Tamoria, who has since retired, said of what Rowley did, “An act like that renews my faith in humanity.”