Ronald Reagan once said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
One woman’s relentless leadership compelled over 80 strangers to unite and help save the lives of 10 people who were drowning in a riptide. By staying calm, being resourceful and getting people to cooperate, Jessica Simmons became the hero in a life or death rescue mission.
Simmons, 29, tells CNBC in a phone interview that when she learned people were drowning, she felt frightened but knew she had to do something quickly.
Her family was visiting a Florida beach to dine and de-stress earlier this month and while they were swimming, tragedy struck, she writes in a Facebook post.
“I automatically thought they had seen a shark,” Simmons tells the Panama City News Herald, but she soon learned multiple people had gotten caught in a deadly rip tide.
She tells CNBC that she decided to lead the rescue mission because she was the only first responder who said she could swim well.
“Each person had a different talent, [swimming] was my talent and my mission was to get them closer to the human chain,” Simmons says.
Although managing communication with everyone in the moment of crisis was hectic at first, Simmons says, she was able to delegate roles to those who could help.
Since they didn’t have a rope or line to throw to the endangered people, bystanders began forming a human chain starting on the shore. The line of people standing hand-in-hand closed a gap nearly the size of a football field, Simmons says, with another 15 feet left to reach the people stuck in the current.
The secret to her inner peace came not from confidence, but knowing she had the resources to overcome the situation, she explains.
“I stayed calm because I knew I had the tools to get them out,” Simmons tells CNBC, referring to a boogie board and surfboard she used to help people out. “I knew if I could keep them afloat, they were going to be alive and that was my main goal, to give them something to hold onto and to keep their heads up.”
SImmons says it isn’t in her nature to sit back and watch anyone struggle. “I have jumped into situations that I probably shouldn’t have, but I’ve always had a good outcome,” she says, adding how she has saved a toddler from drowning in a pool and frequently helped in times of crisis when tornadoes hit in her home state of Alabama.
“I think other people should be inspired to actually help more, come up with a solution and work with other people you might not know,” Simmons says. “Today, there is always something going on, we’re always on the phone, always texting, cutting throughout the traffic, we’re always going at a fast pace.”
She tells CNBC: “We need to sit back and just look around and realize there’s a lot more to life than doing all that.”
Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook.