LEELANAU COUNTY, MI — Chicago nurse Matthew Lipinski rescued three people from a strong rip current while visiting a Northern Michigan beach earlier this month.
Lipinski, formerly of Flushing, was swimming at Van’s Beach in Leelanau County with his young daughters and nieces on Aug. 11 when he noticed rough water conditions forming along Lake Michigan. As the waves grew stronger, he saw that a rip current had pulled two adults (a mother and daughter) out near open water.
“Overall, I think conditions were too rough for inexperienced swimmers and novice beachgoers that day,” said Lipinski, who is also a scuba instructor and Great Lakes surfer. “I stuck out the conditions with my kids, but when I saw the rip current moving, I told them to get out of the water and wait for me on the beach.”
Seeing the danger at hand, Lipinski directed other families to get to shore, grabbed a life ring flotation device and swam toward the two people who were caught in the rip current.
Lipinski encountered the daughter first and instructed her to swim parallel to the beach to get out of the current. He then swam out further to assist the mother, a 79-year-old woman who had a “noodle” flotation device.
Another rescuer swam out to help Lipinksi, but he was quickly overpowered by the waves and grew fatigued.
“I told him to float on his back, then handed him the life ring and held onto the woman and told them all to kick so we could move south out of the rip current,” Lipinski said. “A guy in a boogie board came to help grab the line, and people formed a chain from the beach to help pull us in.”
Fire and rescue crews from the nearby community of Leland also arrived quickly on the scene at 1:33 p.m. Lipinski and the three people he rescued all came ashore uninjured.
Lipinski, 52, is no stranger to recreation on the Great Lakes. In addition to his side hobby of scuba instruction, he frequently surfs and paddleboards in Lake Michigan.
Despite his years of experience, Lipinski said that the rescue would not have been successful without the life rings, which were installed several years ago by Leelanau Township after a drowning happened at the beach in 2012.
“If those life rings hadn’t been there, we could have had a very different and likely tragic outcome that day,” he said. “They were instrumental to making sure everybody came in safely.”
To avoid succumbing to a rip current, Lipinksi said that swimmers should always remember to flip, float and follow.
“If you swim against a rip current, you’ll exhaust yourself,” he said. “Instead, flip on your back, float to conserve energy and follow the contours of the beach. Always swim parallel to the shore.”
Lipinski, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), was born in Flint in 1969 and moved to Flushing with his family when he was four-years-old. He attended St. Roberts Catholic School in Flushing during his elementary years and graduated from Powers Catholic High School in 1987.
Lipinksi currently lives in Chicago with his wife Lisa and daughters Josie, 12, and Cassie, 10. His parents, Tom and Bonnie Lipinski, still live in Flushing.