BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Eleven-year-old Maya Harding knows just what she'd like to say to the Bakersfield teenager who rescued her from the waves at Ventura Pier last weekend.
"You should probably work as a lifeguard because you're really good at swimming," Maya said. "Thank you very much for saving my life. You are my hero."
But Harding has not had the chance to say those words to her hero yet. After her rescue, she was too shaken to express her gratitude.
"It was just too scary for me. I didn't even have time to think, I was just shocked," she said by phone Monday.
Maya and Paul Harding, her grandfather, searched for the teen on Facebook but couldn't find him. All they know about the lifesaver is his name is Chris Lozano -- at least that's how they think it is spelled -- and he is 16 years old.
"I want to thank him again and maybe give him a little monetary reward for his heroics," Harding said. "I'd like for the young man to get some recognition for what he did."
Maya and her younger brother were visiting Harding, who lives in Ventura, from Adelanto when they visited the beach Friday. Maya headed toward some other kids in the water, hoping to body surf. Suddenly, all the other people seemed far away.
"A wave finally took me over and I couldn't see," she said.
Maya started screaming and that's when someone came to her rescue.
"(Lozano) had a body board which he just abandoned and just went charging and swimming into the ominous waves," Harding said.
The teen reached Maya, grabbed her and told her when to breathe as he brought her back to the shore.
"She was pretty hysterical. She was coughing and crying and just clinging to me like a little vice," Harding said of his granddaughter when she reached him.
The young man appeared unscathed.
"He was completely very, very humble. That's what really impressed me about him," Harding said.
Richard Rozzelle, a district superintendent for California State Parks, whose area includes San Buenaventura State Beach, said a lifeguard was on duty at the time Maya was in distress but there was a lapse in coverage.
"There was a lack of attentiveness, and corrective action has been taken," Rozzelle said, adding that he could not specify what measure had been taken because it is a personnel matter.
Rozzelle said Harding and another woman, who was involved in the incident but not related to the rescuer, contacted the lifeguard. Rozzelle did not have the woman's name or contact information.
Overall, Rozzelle said his program is very solid, and he has a lot of good lifeguards. This past weekend, Friday through Sunday, lifeguards made 122 rescues at that one beach, the superintendent said.
After her harrowing experience, Maya advised others not to get too comfortable in the ocean even if a lifeguard is on duty.
"Don't do anything stupid or crazy," she said. "Don't go far out."
She still hopes to thank her own personal lifeguard.
"I really want to because he saved my life. If it weren't for him I would have drowned," she said.