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Assistant Coach Leisenring Saves Man from Drowning in JAX River

Friday, February 2nd
Assistant Coach Leisenring Saves Man from Drowning in JAX River

Story via Christine Troyke - Gwinnett Daily Post - LINK: http://bit.ly/2FHEZ6B

A group with the Atlanta Gladiators were getting a post-game meal at a restaurant along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville after Thursday night’s win when they heard someone shouting for help.

“We were just chilling, eating,” said Derek Nesbitt, captain of Gwinnett's ECHL hockey team. “We weren’t on the patio but they had one of those big garage doors and it was open. We heard a voice yelling and it sounded like ‘Help.’”

The whole table got up and went over a railing to get to the water’s edge.

“We saw a man in the water,” assistant coach Brady Leisenring said. “He was drowning.”

Nesbitt said they were looking around to see if there was something to throw out.

“He was trying, but he had gone under a couple of times,” Nesbitt said. “I’m assuming he was freaking out a little.”

Leisenring, still in his suit from the game, took off his jacket and shoes and jumped in the river.

“If I didn’t, I’m sure another guy would have,” Leisenring said. “He was maybe 100 yards out, but it was hard to tell because it was dark.

“I got out there as fast as I could and, in retrospect, used most of my energy getting out there. I’m definitely not in playing shape these days. But I got to him fairly quickly. I told him to relax and I was going to get him back.”

Leisenring was a lifeguard in high school, though nothing in those two summers came close to this experience.

“I think all I had to do was put a Bandaid on a scraped knee and siphon red throw-up out of a kids pool,” he said.

Leisenring wrapped one arm around the man so he was floating on his back and began to swim for the waiting crowd, including Gladiators athletic trainer Aaron Rice, defensemen Colin Sullivan and Rick Pinkston.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to do CPR,” Rice said. “I was expecting to. We kept asking Brady if he needed help, but he got close and we pulled them both out.”

“That last 20 feet was a bit of a struggle,” Leisenring said.

The injury that ended his nine-year pro playing career in 2014-15 was to his left shoulder.

“But toward the end, I could see all the guys were at the edge,” Leisenring said. “I went under and kind of threw him forward to the group.”

The man they pulled out of the river was naked and intoxicated.

Leisenring found out Friday morning that another group of Atlanta players saw the man jump into the water near their hotel.

“He told the police he was trying to swim across, which is a few miles,” Leisenring said. “He was caught in a current when we saw him.”

In the aftermath, with the man taken to the hospital via ambulance, it all caught up to Leisenring“Unfortunately, I guess, I went for a run earlier in the day,” he said with a chuckle. “The food I had eaten was threatening to come up.

“I need to start working out again. I shouldn’t have been in that amount of discomfort. I’m just happy the guy is safe and hopefully got the help he needs.”

It actually wasn’t the first time Leisenring had been in the St. Johns River. A few months ago, the Gladiators were mired in a losing streak and Leisenring agreed to jump in on a bet with some of the players. Growing up in Vermont, he was prepared for the cold water.

“But I also learned how dirty the water is,” said Leisenring, who admits to being a bit of a germaphobe. “Afterward I definitely showered and thought I definitely wouldn’t do that again.

“It crossed my mind before I jumped in, but someone was in trouble. I’m glad we were there. I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. And like I said, if it hadn’t been me, I know the other guys were ready to jump in, too.”

Rice made sure to get Leisenring started on an antibiotic Friday morning, though. And Leisenring’s suit needs some industrial-level cleaning.

“The guy was pretty lucky,” Nesbitt said. “Would he have been able to make it back on his own? Who knows.”

Leisenring, 35, made the transition to coaching during the 2014-15 season following a nine-year pro career in the ECHL, AHL and overseas. He played four years in Germany and later in Sweden and Denmark.

He also had a standout four-year collegiate carrier at Vermont.

In his final season with the Catamounts, Leisenring broke NHL great John LeClair’s all-time record of most career points by a Vermont-born player with 117.

This is his first season with the Gladiators, who play again Friday night in Jacksonville before returning home to the Infinite Energy Arena for a 7:05 p.m. game against Orlando on Saturday.

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