Catharina “Cat” Rowley hadn’t heard of the Carnegie Hero Fund on June 28, 2008, when she ran into the waves at the beach near Cambria’s Shamel Park to rescue two floundering nonswimmers.
Rowley, a longtime swimmer with a little lifeguard training, was honored with the Carnegie Medal in 2010 for risking her life to save two strangers, a 22-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl, who had been at a family reunion.
Until last weekend, the 3-inch custom bronze medal had sat inside its case on top of an entertainment unit in the living room of Rowley’s Paso Robles home.
But sometime late Feb. 2 or early Feb. 3, while the Rowleys joined other family members for a reunion in the Mexican resort city of Cabo San Lucas, someone broke into their home and took an estimated $20,000 worth of property including jewelry, electronics and even her sons’ piggy banks.
They also took the medal, which is etched with Rowley’s name and the date of the rescue.
“All I can say is, ‘Really?’ ” Rowley said on Friday, about a week after the burglary took place. The medal “is something that means something to me for saving someone’s life, but not something I ever expected to receive.”
As of Friday, Paso Robles police did not have any suspects in the case, police Lt. Ty Lewis said. He urged anyone with information to call police, or San Luis Obispo County Crime Stoppers to remain anonymous.
In June 2008, Rowley had been taking photos of big surf when she noticed the water getting rougher, she told a Tribune reporter at the time.
She had no idea how many people were in trouble in the water, or their ages.
“I just heard a voice yelling for help,” she said.
She estimated that she swam about 40 or 50 meters to the two people. She towed the girl, with the man holding on to the girl, to shore. Both were taken to a hospital and later released with no injuries.
Rowley has not met the girl, who now is about the same age as her eldest son. Rowley, a notary, and her husband, Dennis, a paramedic with San Luis Ambulance and director of Cuesta College’s paramedic program, have three children: D.J., 16, Nathan, 12, and Christian, 7.
The Carnegie Hero Fund was founded in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie. To date, more than 9,000 medals have been awarded, the recipients selected from more than 80,000 nominees, according to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s website.
While the electronics that were taken are replaceable, the medal is not, Rowley said.
“I never knew the organization existed, but after I was given it, it was something special to me,” she said. “It’s not going to do anyone else any good.”
Anyone with more information about the burglary or the whereabouts of Catharina Rowley’s Carnegie Medal can call Paso Robles police at 237-6464 or SLO County Crime Stoppers at 549-7867 or submit a tip online at www.prcity.com/government/departments/police. Rowley can be reached at 286-2333.