Balaker makes the ‘save of a lifetime’

Roanoke alum earns award and international recognition for saving a life

At Roanoke, lacrosse goalie Jerry Balaker '96 made impressive saves on the field. But he earned international recognition for a more recent save that involved a life, not a ball.

And that's why Balaker received the Quiksilver Waterman Award at the December 2007 opening ceremonies of the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. The award is presented annually to people who have used their expertise of the sea to save lives.

For Balaker, it happened on Feb. 15, 2007. He reported to work as a professional lifeguard at Oahu's North Shore; his mother, visiting from Long Island, N.Y., accompanied him. After settling her in a chair, Balaker, the sole lifeguard on duty, noticed in the water a young surfer whose board had broken, and he was being pulled towards some rocks, waving for help. Once Balaker reached the man, they began swimming for deeper water until a massive set of waves started rolling in, the first one cresting at 30 feet. Coaching the surfer on what to do, Balaker had already handed him his flotation device. Second and third waves had pushed the man to shore, leaving Balaker to face the remaining waves at Hawaii's famous "Pipeline,"one of the world's most spectacular and deadly.

"I definitely felt my recently deceased dad and God telling me to calm down - we're going to get you out," he says.

Balaker relaxed and allowed the waves, along with what he'd learned from the great lifeguards around him and his swimming abilities to get him the remaining 100 yards or so to shore. Waiting there were the man he had saved and his mother, who, he laughingly admits, "was a little white knuckled."

Even though he lifeguarded in New York during his high school years, the health and human performance major never foresaw this occupation. For four years he coached college lacrosse at four different schools, the last with former Roanoke assistant coach J.B. Clarke at Washington College. In January of 2001, he traveled to Australia to visit Roanoke teammate Jason Davenport '98, stopping en route in Hawaii. That glimpse of paradise convinced him to relocate.

Being a full-time employee for the city of Honolulu leaves Balaker scant free time. He manages to squeeze in surfing, participating in adult-league lacrosse, coaching youth lacrosse and playing ice hockey (yes, in Hawaii). Several Roanoke alums even come every year to compete in the popular Hawaii Lacrosse Invitational, for which Balaker has been in the elite division since he moved there.

Technology also keeps him connected with the College. From his computer he checks real-time lacrosse scores; via cell phone he chats with former classmates. At least once a year, usually during lacrosse season, he visits Roanoke. "The College had such a profound effect on who I am today," he asserts. "There I learned the importance of having a good work ethic and organization skills and of being prepared for any situation."

In Hawaii, people benefit from that every day.

Released: October 9, 2008