Eric Johnston knew he had a chance to save her, but time was of the essence.
He raced the swollen rapids, sprinting down the boardwalk from to along the Cuyahoga River in downtown Kent Sunday afternoon.
Moments before, he watched as a little girl tumbled into the river and was swept through the old canal lock next to the dam.
"Me and a group of friends decided to go down and walk by the river since it was nice out (Sunday)," Johnston said. "My friend John and I were standing on top of the dam there and I saw the little girl fall in backwards. The only thing I could manage to get out at that point was ‘girl in the water!’”
Johnston's friends called police as he ran downstream to an area where he knew the river wouldn't be as deep.
"I instinctively thought I could make it down there before her and wade out into the water and get her," he said.
The girl had been playing on some flat stones in the pool area just south of the Main Street Bridge and behind the Stone Arch Dam when she fell in.
Johnston, a music education major at , plays the trombone and runs for fun. A healthy set of lungs and legs helped him reach that low point in the river near the Silk Mill Apartments in time to wade out and pull the girl to safety before she was swept further downstream.
"She could have easily drowned," Kent Fire Capt. John Tosko said. "But I think he saved her life."
The department arrived moments after Johnston helped the girl's father, Kent resident Todd Fisher, out of the water. Fisher had jumped in after her.
"He was never able to catch up to her,” Tosko said.
Tosko said the girl, 8, her father and Johnston escaped the water with only a few minor scrapes and bruises.
The water level is unusually high this time of year for the Cuyahoga River due to an unseasonably high amount of rain in the past two months.The rescue happened at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tosko said the department was training for water rescues in the river just five days earlier.
"I can’t imagine going in that in street clothes," he said.
Johnston, who didn't even get the little girl's name, credits the rescue to being in the right place in the right time. And it's a story you can bet he'll be retelling again for quite some time.