Ali Joy is now the founder of a campaign whose mission is to raise awareness on how to survive a rip current.
A heartbreaking family tragedy has sparked a mission to save countless lives. Ali Joy of Ashland, Virginia, lost her husband Austin on vacation with their three children during the Father's Day weekend in June 2018. The family spent a beautiful day picnicking, gathering shells, and exploring Shackleford Banks on Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. When they went to the beach one evening, they noticed that their 7-year-old twins Mary and Ryland were far out in the waters. The girls had run toward the ocean while Joy, Austin, and their son Charlie, 9, stayed behind.
"[Austin] looked and said, 'The girls are too far out,'" Joy recalled to Good Morning America. "When we looked out, it looked like they had engines on them. We just ran because that's what you do as a parent." The girls ended up in a rip current which is a strong, narrow channel flowing away from the shore, despite the parents picking a spot on the beach where the water appeared to be shallow and calm. "A rip current will pull you out in deeper water but not fully under," explained Tom Gill, chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service and vice president of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA). "The cause [of rip currents] in most places are sandbars that break down in certain areas. The water that comes across wants to go out and it finds the path of least resistance and that's the sandbar, [which is] where that funnel takes place."
Both parents went after the girls but Austin did not make it. "There was screaming and panicking, and I'm looking for Austin and he's nowhere to be found," Joy said. "[The girls] were slick and slippery. I was trying to raise my hand but they were on top of me. The next thing I can remember is someone screaming, 'Float on your back' and then came out with a surfboard." Joy and her girls did make it.. with the help of "Marines and surfers: the woman who called 911; the men and women who helped the marines bring us in; and an amazing young lady who took care of us on the beach, drove us to the hospital, and stayed with us until family arrived"
Austin was taken to the hospital but things took a heartbreaking turn. The father had been unconscious for 30 minutes and doctors were unable to revive him. "I fell to the ground," Joy said. "When news like that hits you, you want to be swallowed by the earth." Remembering her husband she said, "He loved the beach. He grew up in Maine. I called him a 'silver fox.' He looked like a movie star -- elegant, humorous. He was very charming." She continued, "He was fun. Loved the kids, played with the kids. He did the homework because that wasn't my strength. He loved to cook, not just cook but present the plate in a special way. He was kind. If he cared about you, then you had the world on your side."
Joy has made it a mission to share her story to help others who may be in a similar situation. Joy is now the founder and executive director of Float Don’t Fight - a campaign dedicated to raising awareness on how to survive a rip current. According to the website, it reads: As a survivor of an underestimated killer – more than tornadoes, lightning and sharks combined annually, I want to share what I learned that may help you: One, bring a floatation device to the beach. Two, grab a floatation device before you go out to save someone. Three, if you find yourself in a rip current; float, don’t fight. "Drowning is silent. I had to reverse-engineer and figure out what happened to me," Joy said, adding that she searched the internet to learn what occurred on the beach the day Austin died. "I learned you're using all your air to stay afloat so it's hard to calmly call out, raise your hand for help. I didn't have that luxury." Gill, who works with public education and lifeguard training added, "If you can float, then you can survive," Gill told GMA. "That's why her message resonates."