038: When Life Hits Like a Riptide with Arwen Becker

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038: When Life Hits Like a Riptide with Arwen Becker

A fun day almost ended in tragedy when Arwen Becker’s teenage boys were pulled out to sea by a riptide on a deserted beach in Costa Rica. When her husband Randy noticed that they had drifted too far from the shore, he started furiously waiving for them to come in, completely unaware of the level of danger they were in.

For a brief moment, Easton’s screams for help cut through the deafening waves and Randy knew something was terribly wrong. In an instant, he sprinted into the water and swam as fast he could to get out to them. 

Even though Arwen’s sons are decent swimmers, neither of them had ever dealt with a rip current like this before. Her oldest son Ashton was able to stay with his younger brother and help keep his head above the water until Randy arrived. After many anxious minutes, the whole family was safely back on the shore with the help of two strangers who also jumped in to help.

In this episode, Arwen shares the story of the family vacation that nearly ended in tragedy, and the lessons that the whole family learned that day. She also reminds us that life is full of risks, but our lives are meant to be lived and enjoyed.

Pearls of Wisdom


“Life is to be pursued and enjoyed. That's what we're all called to do. That's what you're called to do, not to sit back and watch. It's meant to be lived.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “If your health is never going to be better really than it is now, now is a great time to look into insurance.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. It's just a part of life. It's how you walk through it, what you learn in the process that matters so greatly.” - @LIFEwithArwen Click To Tweet “For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” - Matthew 5:45 Click To Tweet


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Connect with Arwen Becker


Arwen Becker: Well, hello, everybody. It's Arwen Becker, and welcome to the She Handled It podcast. And you know what's interesting up until this point, I think this is maybe about the 34th show that I'm recording, and any of the times that I have told personal stories, they've always been personal stories that happened prior to me launching this podcast. And so, today's very interesting. I don't know, it just kind of feels a little bit interesting to me because I'm actually telling a story that just happened a couple of weeks ago, and just something that really drives home the point that life can change in an instant.

My family and I, we happened to be in Costa Rica a number of weeks ago, I figured. The kids were doing remote school because of COVID, and we figured if we can go just rent a house and kind of just stay kind of put in a house and then have a beach to go to, why not do it somewhere else, right? So, it was by far, I think the best trip that we've ever taken as a family, there were only eight people on our 737 from Alaska Airlines. So, definitely a lot of people weren't traveling at that time, but we went and rented this Vrbo out at this kind of pretty quiet area of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

And so, fantastic trip, we spent so much time. There was no internet, thank God for that, that wasn't intentional. So, they actually couldn't even do school, but the lines were chewed through the day before we got there by a squirrel, and it took them forever to rerun them, and we just never had any internet, but didn't really matter because we, of course, enjoyed the time as a family of swimming in the pool and going to the beach and swimming in the beach. And it was just a phenomenal trip because it was just really empty.

And so, great time. And so, the second to last night that we were there, the gentleman who kind of was the groundskeeper of the Vrbo, he was helping us set up a bonfire out on the beach that night, and my idea of a bonfire versus his idea of a bonfire, oh my gosh, both Randy and I, actually I think even the kids were like, how do you even put out something that's that big and that formidable, but anyway, so we had this planned at about five o'clock, 5:30. When the sun was about ready to go down, we would have a bonfire out there with our two boys that were out there with us, 15 and 13-year-old boys, Easton and Ashton, and that we would just have some great family time.

So, Fernando, the guy was working in the house, he started gathering some things along the beach, some of the dry driftwood and starting to prepare this really big fire. And I was out sitting on this black– it's like black sand because it's from lava rock, but it's sand. And so, I was sitting out there watching the boys bodysurf. And throughout this trip, they really hadn't been bodysurfing. Most of the time, they had been boogie boarding. And at this point, they were kind of like, we just don't feel like taking the boards out, we're going to just go out and bodysurf. And the waves weren't formidable. It wasn't windy really at all. It just was a really peaceful and calm, beautiful day. And the waves were just coming in, maybe four or five feet high or something like that, not coming in really significant.

So, I went, sat out there with them, just kind of watching for a while. And then, eventually, this dog came by, this like kind of stray dog looked perfectly healthy. So, I know he was fine, but he came by and just sat down right in front of me. So, the kids are watching me, and I'm hanging out with this dog and petting him and he kind of looked like a bit of a retriever. And after about 20 minutes of them swimming, I was like, why don't you guys come on in and pet the dog. And so, Ashton and Easton came on in, and we took some pictures of us with the dog and we were all happy and things were– it’s just a beautiful day, right?

And they said, “We're going to go back out.” I'm like, “Okay, cool. That's great.” And so, they headed back out on the water to boogie board again. And so, at this point, I grabbed my phone, and I started looking through Facebook. A lot of us find ourselves doing it. We're sitting just kind of killing time in paradise. It just kind of makes it so sad, but that is what I was doing. I launched Facebook and just kind of started scrolling. And about seven or eight minutes later, my husband Randy came up and he gave me this nice sweet, wonderful kind of long kiss and then I just looked at him in the eyes and I said, “Oh, you should look, the boys are having such a good time out there.” And we both turned to look at where they had been for easily 20 minutes before, never even left just the area right in front of me, and they were gone.

And Randy scanned the horizon really quick, and he said, “I see him.” And so, I hadn't laid eyes on them, I hadn't seen where they had ended up. And so, when he said, I see him, I'm going to go walk down there, I just went back to what I was doing out there and just continued scrolling through my Facebook. And within about two minutes, I hear a whistle. And this whistle is a whistle that will cut through the loudest waves, and it's a whistle I know very, very well. And that's that beautiful whistle that Randy has, that I always wish that I had to be able to call the kids when they're somewhere far off and we can't see them all throughout their lives.

So, I hear the whistle. I turned down the beach to find him at the edge of the water, shirt’s already off, and his arms are waving frantically, And that instant moment, I knew something was very wrong. And what happened was, from Randy's perspective, so here, they went back out in the water after their 20 minutes and out their body surfing and everything. And of course, they were a little bit tired, but went back out to enjoy some more. And so, at that point, I just kind of stopped watching them, glancing up and just got into my Facebook.

And so, when he saw how far they were, he was pissed. And he was thinking that they had intentionally just decided to just keep going farther and farther out. And so, as he heads down the beach, he's waving them in, big arms, trying to get them to come in, try to get them to respond, whistling to them. And he said there was no response. He could see their little heads about 300 feet off of shore, about a mile and a half away from where I was, where they just went in the water 10 minutes before. And he said there were no arms, there was nothing that I could hear. And he said at that point, I knew something was really wrong.

And that Costa Rican woman saw what was going on, and she yelled at him, she said, “Do you need help?” And he said, “I don't know,” which of course was enough for her to go. There's zero delay on this. She ran to get the lifering at that point. And Randy had already peeled off his shirt because as he was whistling to the kids, whistling to me, for a brief moment, there was that, I guess, perfect incident or perfect moment in time where Easton’s, our 13-year-old, scream finally cut through the noise of the waves on the beach, as he was screaming, “Help!” And they both were, but none of us heard them. And so, once Randy heard that, he took off and started swimming as fast and as hard as he possibly could to be able to get out to our two teenagers who had been pulled out by riptide.

And as they were out there, what had happened from their perspective was they were just playing in that area right out in front of me which the waves weren't pulling them any which way the prior 20 minutes. And then, at some point, Easton’s feet just peeled off the bottom of the sea floor. And he said to Ashton, he said, “Stay there, I'm going to come back into you.” And he kept trying to swim back into him, and he wasn't getting anywhere. And at that point, the same thing occurred with Ashton, who's about six inches taller than Easton, two years older, much better swimmer, and he found himself in the same rip current.

And as this continued, now the 10 minutes was going into 15 minutes, and again, Easton is a pool swimmer, he never went through, like he was never a competitive swimmer, like I was. He hadn't really had formal training on all the basics, strokes and really being able to float on your back and conserve energy and things of that nature. And so, they hit that current, and the current just took them. And no matter how much they tried to fight it, no matter how hard they worked to try and get that footing back on the seafloor, it didn't happen. And they just kept going farther and farther out, farther and farther away from their mom sitting on the beach, looking through her Facebook and not recognizing what was going on.

And so, I dropped my phone, threw off my hat, threw my sunglasses down, I ran full bore in the dress I was already in, down the beach towards him. And at the same time, a woman who was either visiting, but she looked like she was Costa Rican, in very, very good shape, looks like she was a lifeguard. She came out and she was in her bikini and she had a life ring in one arm with this big long rope. And she and I converged right as we were both entering the water at the same time. And I looked at her, by this point, Randy was already fully in the waves swimming towards the kids. Fernando had of course, dropped everything, didn't speak an ounce of English, knew exactly what was going on. He had already followed Randy into the water. And we were the only four people on this enormously long, probably mile stretch of beach.

And so, as I intersected with the Costa Rican woman, I just said to her, I said, “Those are my kids, whatever I need to do, you tell me exactly what I need to do.” As we're swimming under these waves, as they're pummeling us, we're trying to get past that wave break to be able to get out to our kids.

And by the time, all of us, all four of us, Fernando, the Costa Rican woman, Randy, and myself, were all out in the water, Randy had already reached Easton and grabbed him. Randy says, I did all the wrong things, basically, the kids nearly drowning him because he was never trained as a lifeguard, and he's not the strongest swimmer either, but between him and him definitely getting to them first, the very first thing he did is he looked at Ashton, our 15-year-old, and he said, “Just swim in!” And it was like everything clicked with Ashton because what we found out after the fact, was Ashton said, “I would have died before I left him.” He said, “If it meant I held him up, I would have done that for him.” And for a kid, ADHD, autistic, and for two kids who don't really get along that well, oil and water, to hear him say that just was one of the most touching moments for me as a parent to know that he wasn't going to let his brother die alone.

And so, the moment that Ashton realized Easton was going to be okay, he had the energy to be able to swim himself back into shore. And so, Randy kind of fights with Easton a little bit to try and kind of get him towards the shore and then Randy's finding himself in a precarious position, it's not working well. And then, Fernando comes up and just comes up behind him, just kind of keeps picking him up by the waist and just kind of shoving him forward, until that moment where me and the Costa Rican met them with the life ring. And at that point, Easton was saved. He gripped on that, and we rode it the rest of the way and all headed back into shore. And the whole experience was terrifying.

To hear the recount of both Ashton and Easton, Ashton being very much an internal processor doesn't talk a lot. Just putting every bit of energy that he had into staying with his brother, trying to conserve his own energy because they were at the point where both of them said their arms were exhausted. And Easton, so much so that to conserve energy, he would literally had his arms at his side, and he would literally allow himself to go completely underwater to just rest for two, three, four seconds to just let his body rest for a moment because he just didn't know how much longer he could tread water. And when Easton told us how it all went down, how he felt about the entire thing, he said, “I told Ashton I'm going to die, I'm going to die.”

And as a 13-year-old to believe that, that that was it, just terrifying. And I'm so grateful that Ashton stayed with him, I'm so grateful for my husband being fully aware and present and recognizing something didn't seem right. Easton said, “I knew that we were going to be saved when I saw dad taking his shirt off.” And for my husband to go to such effort, honestly, another five minutes if he hadn't have come out at that time, and why at that point, I didn't, there wasn't a mom's intuition, there was nothing inside of me that said something was wrong. Oddly enough, as I was running full sprint, fully clothed out into this water, there was no feeling that I had at that moment that I needed to panic. And I don't know, the whole thing was just such an interesting human experience. And we all learned a lot. Tragedy was not part of our story that day, but there were a lot of things that we learned, that's for sure.

One, that great thing’s a great day, on top of the world you're in heaven can go to tragedy like that, in an instant. And truthfully, that's just a part of life. Sometimes you're at war with ecstasy and pain, and they can coexist. They can coexist at the same time. You could be losing a parent to cancer and just have landed your dream job, right? This is the human condition. It is not all great, right? We know that. And so, if we have this understanding that that's just part of life, it ends up being a little bit easier in a moment like this, and quite honestly be able to get past it and not let it ruin the rest of your vacation and the rest of your year or whatever, months or weeks or something.

Secondly, one of the things that we had talked to our kids about all throughout this trip leading up to that was you absolutely don't go out in the water by yourself. Ashton, pretty independent, he's like, but I want to go out, or it was starting to get darker, I was like, no, no, no, no, no, we just don't mess with that. It goes from good to terror and tragedy in an instant, and we saw that. And so whether it be out in the ocean, whether it be hiking, whether it be diving, whether it be multiple different things that people do, make sure that you have a buddy that goes with you, and thank God, we knew that they were going. You know what I’m saying? If they would have just left and gone out on their own and not told us that they were going out, that could have been just another thing to add to the tragedy. So, making sure that you tell somebody that you're going, so somebody knows to be looking for you as Randy was.

And something that was so impressive to both me and Randy was the fact that the boys stayed calm. Even though both of them were exhausted, even though Easton was articulating out loud, I'm going to die, they didn't panic. They were screaming for help collectively trying to get that to cut through and have anybody hear it, but they didn't panic and waste that last little bit of energy that they did have. For me, I also learned a very valuable lesson that day. So, interestingly enough, I wear a Fitbit and mine tracks very, very closely my heart rate, just got right here, it looks like an Apple Watch, but it's not. It tracks all my sleep, my temperature, my heart rate, my exercise steps, step stairs, zone minutes, all that kind of good stuff.

And what was so interesting to me was what the human body does in a moment like that of a crisis, and how adrenaline affects how the body works in a significant way. So, me being an athlete my whole life, when I start telling people this, they go, Oh, yeah, it's just because you're in great shape. I'm like, no, that actually has nothing to do with it because I know what my baseline is for doing certain types of activities. I know what my heart rate should be when I'm running full sprint and swimming as hard and as fast as I can. And yet, what's so miraculous and interesting is that my heart rate did not get over 108 beats per minute until I was in the shower, showering after this experience, and Randy and I were talking about what happened and what could have gone wrong.

So, my normal heart rate between 57 and 62 beats a minute. So, my heart rate went up, there's no doubt about it, but a full sprint and a full swim out in the water fully clothed, my heart rate should have been in the 170 range for as long as I had to sustain that peak cardio performance range. It didn't get there. Until Randy and I started talking about what could have gone wrong. We were already on land, our kids were already safe. At that point, my heart rate, the adrenaline had probably started working itself out of my system. And that's when my heart rate skyrocketed. And it was just such an interesting thing for me to experience and see, but at that same time, guilt, my mother's guilt for being out there supposedly watching over my kids and not recognizing something had gone wrong.

And then, of course, to add to it, it's like, well, I wasn't doing anything interesting. Maybe I would feel less guilty if I was like, I was writing my memoirs or something. No, I was scrolling through Facebook. And the first time I expressed that that evening to the boys that I just felt so bad that I didn't know that I didn't have this, nothing signaled inside of me that something was wrong. And Easton just said to me, he said, “Mom, no, this is not your fault. I don't want you to feel bad about it.” And I had to take his advice. I could have just beat myself up over how irresponsible I was to look away for ten minutes or seven minutes or whatever, for my teenagers. And he just said, “Nope, not letting you do that.” So, that was a great lesson that I learned too.

And then, finally, life is just full of risks. It just is, especially if you are experiencing all that it has to offer. My boys were so happy that day, and life and energy, and what they did is they pushed the boundary of nature, a boundary that is relentless and unforgiving, but it's because life is to be pursued and enjoyed. That's what we're all called to do. That's what you're called to do, not to sit back and watch. It's meant to be lived. And the part that made me so proud of my boys, and what we're trying our best as parents to lead them and guide them is, later that evening, Easton said, “I'm never going back. I'm never going back in the water. I'm never going back in the water again.” And I just said, “Easton, you have to. We have one day out here. I need you back out in that water. I need you to prove to yourself you can do it. That you do not run by fear, that you have faith and belief that God's still got a big plan for you, that we've learned something, and we're definitely going to take that and make use of now what we've learned from it, but you've got to get back out there. This can't win. You will regret it if you do.”

And that next day, they didn't go out just body surfing. They did go out boogie boarding, but they ended up being out there for three, four hours. Yes, I was much more mindful, I was out there watching them much more closely, and out there with them myself, helping to prove my point that I need to be out here with you to prove to you I am not going to let this win. And it just made me so proud as a parent because we can go through experiences in our life that are devastating, that rock us to the core that shake the foundation of all the things that we thought we knew, our invincibility, our ability to be able to better understand, this is not a good day to go out in the water, but this is fine. The next day was way worse, the waves were pummeling, they were relentless, they literally pummeled me down and ripped my goggles off. I was like, I think I'm done here, this isn't that fun, but the day that they went out, it was calm, it was beautiful, it was serene. And it got us, it got my boys.

I wasn't sure about telling the story, but within, I think I want to say by the end of the next day, because certainly, for Randy and I, and talking about it and just hearing your kid articulate the words I'm going to die was something that both of us wondered if that was a story that we wanted to tell. And both boys, they said, “You need to tell this story on your podcast.” And Easton said, “I need to tell all my friends first so you can make a post of it.” They gave me like 24 hours that I had to wait to post it on my social media about what had happened. And so, he told his friends and then gave me the A-okay, go ahead that I could tell the story, because it was a powerful story. And it's one that affects a lot of us, and it is just a reminder that life is full of risks. And yet, we all look back on that trip to Costa Rica as by far the best family trip we've ever taken, could be one of the best trips I've taken in my entire life. And we're not going to let this 30-minute time period color the joys and the exuberance and the ecstasy that that trip was.

So, rapid fire. Let's see what's the best financial piece of wisdom? Well, yes, this could be debated, but for the most part, especially as we work with people who are typically 15 above, you're not going to be in better health than you are now. And so, keeping that in mind, if your health is never going to be better really than it is now, now is a great time to look into insurance, long-term care, things like that. We think of insurance as the white picket fence that wraps around your house, all the things that matter to you. For young people, that could be, if one of you got sick, if one of you got cancer, if one of you died unexpectedly, would you have the money to pay your mortgage? Would you have the money to take time off from work if your kid got sick? If if your kid is sick with cancer, to think that, first of all, the two of you are going to be able to still continue working won't happen. And then, the likelihood that the one who does have to retain, has to continue working to try and generate income, they're not going to be in their full capacity to do well.

And so, having insurance for things like that. Having insurance as we continue to age, maybe that means if something were to happen, would you be able to still pay for kids’ college? And then once your kids are out of school, it's less about making sure you have money to cover the mortgage or things of that nature, then it's about making sure that your spouse is taken care of, if something happens to you, making sure that there's a legacy that you can leave to your kids because the amount of clients that we sit down with that don't have any insurance, and then they die and say they own a couple of rentals, well, you know what happens to their kids? Their kids have to within that nine-month time period pay a tax bill that is on their estate including those rentals, or those rentals until you sell them aren't of benefit. So, it forces a lot of kids in a position where when their parent dies and now, all of a sudden, this money is left to them, they have to liquidate or sell. Can you imagine selling at the bottom of the market if we were talking like 2009, and you liquidated a rental property of your parents that maybe even had good cash flow that you would have liked to have kept? You have to liquidate it, sell it, basically auction prices, to pay a tax bill.

And so, insurance really can be a tremendous tax play for those of us that don't need it for a death benefit, we don't need it for our living benefit, like if something were to happen, well, I have something for my spouse or things of that nature, but it can be a great benefit for heirs to be able to pay tax bills and relax while they're dealing with the loss of their parent or parents. So, your best health, it's great to look into term insurance, long-term care, whole life, universal life, indexed universal life, there's a lot of different types, and I definitely recommend that you look into that.

A book that I would recommend is one I read so many years ago, Being Happy! I've probably read it at least three times by Andrew Matthews. And this one was a really great start for me as I really started to explore this idea of personal development. And I hadn't really done that kind of work until I was in my early 20s going through a divorce. And so, I started to better understand, actually, these thoughts that come through my mind, I don't have to just let them come through and stay and fester and turn into something, I didn't have to do that, that there are actually set skills that you can continue to practice and get better at, that help you to retain your happiness, even in the midst of difficulty, that help you retain your peace in the midst of difficulty. And learning skills like not blaming others. I blamed my real dad for years for what happened between him and my mom when I was six months old, leading to the end of their marriage. I was in my 20s until I found out that I didn't have to blame him anymore. And that was ridiculous. I wasn't changing anything, not for me.

And then, finally, the quote that I wanted to give is one of my– it's such a great scripture, and this one is Matthew 5:45, and it says, “For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. This is a part of life. We all get rained on at times. And sitting there, wondering or crying out loud for an extended period of time, it's okay every once in a while. Why me? Do you know how good I am? Do you know all the things that I've done? Do you know all the people that I've helped? Why would this happen to me? It doesn't get us anywhere. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. It's just a part of life. It's how you walk through it, what you learn in the process that matters so greatly.

So, just believe that life is good. It is good. And you have good things out ahead of you. And if terrible things are maybe going on in your life right now, fight to see the good things because I guarantee you, there are good things going on in your life right now. You're just so clouded by the tough things that you can't see them. And so, I'm telling you, working through that, understanding that good still lies ahead, life is to be lived and enjoyed, that is where you're going to find some rest. Alright, you guys, we'll talk to you later. Love you.


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