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Tevlin: Chiropractor adjusts his thinking about safety on water

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN
  • Star Tribune
  • July 19, 2012 - 12:33 AM

They call it the "circle of death."

Dr. Kevin Schreifels had never heard the term before. But after a boating accident nearly killed him nearly three weeks ago, the chiropractor was introduced to the phrase by clients who are cops.

Sitting in his Uptown Minneapolis office Tuesday, Schreifels told the gripping tale of his accident and rescue with the relief of a man who was sure he had taken his last breath, a breath filled with water.

There have been a record number of drownings this year statewide and in Minneapolis. In Hennepin County, six people have already drowned. More than 25 people have drowned in nonboating incidents in the state. Schreifels still finds it hard to believe he didn't become one of those statistics.

On June 29, Schreifels, 50, went to Cokato Lake to visit his in-laws at their lakeside property. At some point he decided to take their ski boat out for a ride. Alone.

His relatives warned Schreifels that their boat was quicker and turned sharper than his own. But it was just going to be a quick trip to end the day.

He was bumping across the lake at a pretty good clip when he turned the wheel to the left. The next thing Schreifels remembers is his head and neck smacking the water as he grabbed for what he thought was a life preserver. It was a purse.

When he came up, he saw the unmanned boat, spinning in circles.

Schreifels wasn't wearing a life jacket, but he's a good swimmer and was in good enough shape that he has run several marathons. He had not been drinking alcohol so he was alert. Instead of trying to swim back to shore, however, Schreifels did what many people try to do -- get back onto a moving boat.

That's why they call it the circle of death.

Each time the boat passed, Schreifels tried to grab onto the platform. But the wave of the boat drove him underwater, again and again. Three times it passed, three times he missed.

"I knew at that point this wasn't going to work. By this time I was so weak and tired and thought I couldn't swim to shore since I was in the middle of the lake and running out of energy."

Schreifels screamed for help. It was a Friday evening, but he couldn't see any other boats on the lake. He started thinking about his wife, Ketrah, and his three children. He was struggling to stay above water, and began to cry, then pray.

"God, no!" he yelled.

Cary and Sandy Linder of Cokato were out for a ride that day, too. They were about to head in, but for some reason they decided to take one more lap around the lake, they later told Schreifels. That's when they saw a boat making crazy circles and decided to investigate.

The next thing Schreifels recalled was seeing a boat coming toward him. He thought he was above water, but he was disoriented and was actually submerged. He struggled again and again to get to the surface as his weary body thrashed.

On what may have been his final effort, Schreifels broke the surface of the water and felt a hand grab him.

The Linders pulled the 215-pound Schreifels onto their boat. Someone on shore had heard the screams and called 911, so emergency workers were standing by. Schreifels couldn't see anything, but he could hear them talking as they sped to the hospital. Schreifels eventually came out of the haze, feeling like he'd been hit by a truck.

"God granted me another day," he later posted on his Facebook page.

On Tuesday, Schreifels said his faith was strengthened in the ordeal. But he also wanted to share a few lessons with other boaters.

"Don't go boating alone, or if you do be attached to a kill switch" that will turn off the boat if you fall out. And if you do fall out, don't try to get on the moving boat, the circle of death. Instead, use your energy to get to shore. Wear a life jacket.

"I didn't yell for help until it was almost too late," said Schreifels. He says it was no time to be macho.

Schreifels has been swimming and boating since the accident, but he's acutely more aware of safety issues.

"Every night my kids hug me and say, 'Thanks for not dying, Dad,'" he said. "I'm blessed. I'm above ground."

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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