By Jennifer Robison
July 4 began as a routine holiday for Colby Peterson.
Peterson and his brother-in-law, Chris Guenther, headed to a beach near Lake Tahoe’s Zephyr Cove just before sunrise to put out chairs for a beach party later in the day. After they set up, the two decided to fit in some paddle-boarding.
It wouldn’t be too long before Peterson, a vegetation management program manager for the San Francisco and East Bay divisions, would call on PG&E’s constant safety messaging to help save a life.
As they paddled 60 yards from shore just after 6 a.m., the two saw a man jump into the lake and swim out to where the water was about 12 feet deep.
“The sun wasn’t even up yet. It was still cold,” Peterson said. “I think we said something like, ‘Wow, someone’s already swimming.’ Then we kept paddling.”
Soon, Peterson and Guenther heard people yelling onshore. They saw the swimmer’s head come up and slip under the water a couple of times. They saw his friends begin to swim toward him.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘I don’t think he’s joking,’” Peterson said.
The two rushed toward the swimmer. Guenther dived into the water, got underneath the man and pushed all 6’2” and 200 pounds of him to the surface. Peterson grabbed the swimmer under his armpit and hoisted him onto his paddleboard.
The man had been under water for about 30 seconds. He had no pulse. He wasn’t breathing or responding.
They pushed the man to shore, where an EMT was in the crowd.
That’s when Peterson’s PG&E training kicked in. Through the company, Peterson is CPR-certified. He was prepared to help with resuscitation efforts and asked a nearby resort employee to go get the hotel’s AED.
“In that heat of the moment, my adrenaline was going, and I wasn’t really thinking, ‘Should I do this or that,’” he said. “Working for PG&E really does ingrain it in your mind – that discussion we have about safety at every meeting, like who’s CPR-certified, who’ll get the AED, who’ll call 911. It’s repetitive, but that means when it’s time for action, you do what you need without having to stop and think about it.”
Brian Biancardi, Peterson’s supervisor, said he’s proud of Peterson but not surprised.
“Safety is the most important thing we practice and prepare for, especially in vegetation management,” Biancardi said. “With that preparation, and knowing his character, he was of course ready to help when needed.”
Paramedics arrived in about five minutes and revived the man. Medics took him to a Reno hospital, where he spent two days in a coma.
That’s when the story took an even stranger turn for Peterson.
He hopped online to search whether the man survived.
He found that not only did the man live, but he was a professional soccer player affiliated with one of his favorite pro sports teams.
Guenther and Peterson had helped rescue Matheus Silva, a 20-year-old midfielder for Reno 1868 FC, the minor-league farm team for the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer. Matheus played in four Earthquakes games last season.
“That was kind of crazy to me. I’ve played soccer all my life, and I’m an Earthquakes fan,” Peterson said. “I couldn’t believe he played soccer, and I just hoped he could recover and keep playing.”
Peterson and Matheus haven’t spoken, but Earthquakes GM Jesse Fioranelli said in a July 6 statement that the team was “incredibly excited and relieved to announce that Matheus Silva has awoken from his coma and is fully responsive. The entire Earthquakes organization is grateful for the invaluable effort by the doctors, players and staff at Reno 1868 FC and bystanders on the beach who contributed to Matheus being alive and well today.”
The Earthquakes were so grateful that they tracked down Peterson and Guenther and asked them to appear at Avaya Stadium on July 29, where the two will kick the first goal against the mascot before the team’s home game against the Colorado Rapids.
“I told the Earthquakes when they contacted us that neither Chris nor I are looking for anything from this,” Peterson said. “We felt like we just happened to be there, and we hope anyone else would have done what we did. We just did what needed to be done. I don’t know that I would have been able to sit on that paddleboard and not help.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.