BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) — Tara Myers says it’s one of the biggest lessons she’s ever learned. She never thought something like this could happen.
The native Floridian grew up around water, spending countless hours on the Gulf of Mexico. But, one day seems to stand out, far beyond all the others. October 21 is a day she’ll never forget.
That Sunday she thought she and her son might die. “I have never been more scared in my entire life,” she said.
It was supposed to be a day like any other, one where she and her son, Brennan, would spend time together. “We are a nautical family. We spend time on the water all the time,” she explained.
They decided to enjoy the sunny skies that Sunday on Anna Maria Island.
On this trip, they added a new item to their list of beach supplies – a giant inflatable Swan raft, one that gained popularity over the summer, seen at beaches all over Tampa Bay and beyond. It’s a decision that’s left Tara filled with regret.
At the same time, she’s also grateful she learned a powerful lesson, one that she wants to share with other parents. She’s warning moms and dads about launching a large raft onto a big body of water.
Tara describes how dangerous it was that day and how desperate she felt. “You feel very small and can’t be heard or seen. Totally invisible,” she explained.
She says she and her 7-year-old son set sail on the swan.
What truly surprised Tara is how misleading the conditions were that day. It seemed safe on the calm Gulf water. No wind. No waves.
Minutes later, this mom couldn’t believe what was happening. The current carried them way too far – several miles off shore.
“I was not sure if we were going to keep drifting because land just kept getting farther and farther and farther away,” Tara told us. She knew she had to act fast.
Tara began swimming with the swan, paddling as hard as she could with her body halfway off the float. She kicked her feet quickly, trying to propel the swan forward.
It didn’t work.
She felt defeated and drained, realizing just how strong the current was. “I was just exhausted, and we were not going anywhere. Like I was doing that for an inch,” she recalled.
Tara says she tried to calm in front of her young son, but inside she was panicked. She wondered if anyone would see them.
It turns out, beachgoers did and began calling 911. When Tara finally saw a West Manatee Fire Rescue boat with flashing lights, she couldn’t stop the tears – filled with gratitude that she and her son were saved.
“I literally just laid down on that swan float and cried. So hard because this could have ended so much worse, and I didn’t want him to know that I was that scared,” Tara said.
When she and her son were brought back to shore, there was one more thing left to do. The swan had to go.
Her son happened to be wearing a shark’s tooth necklace. He used the tooth to puncture a hole in the swan.
Tara said she felt relief when she saw the swan deflated, flung over the shoulder of a firefighter. “He threw it in a dumpster,” she said with a laugh.
At the end of all this, Tara told us the next time they take a raft out for the day, the only water they’ll use it in will have chlorine in it.