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Team SA dad saves drowning local
- Updated: August 22, 2014
By Mark Etheridge
in Nanjing, China
Team South Africa may not have won any medals at the Youth Olympic Games yet but they have won the hearts of the local population.
Panayiotis Stais, father of the team’s sole equestrian representative, Alexa, saved the life of a local citizen by diving into a river as she floundered helplessly this week.
Stais, 54, was reluctant to take the focus off Team South Africa here, but told the SASCOC Road to Rio site of what went down at the riverside.
‘We were having lunch at the Confucius Temple with some of the New Zealand equestrian crowd when I saw that someone had fallen in, about 60 metres away.’
A former lifesaver, originally from Milnerton/Blaauwberg on the Cape’s west coast but now living in Johannesburg, Stais reacted immediately.
‘I could see that she couldn’t swim and realised that I wouldn’t be able to strip down completely and still get there in time, so I just took off what I could and dived in. Everyone else was just standing around watching.
‘She was about 20m off shore and when I got to her she was just under the keel of one of the boats also going to her aid.
‘Her partner was also there and I managed to get her out with some help from him. She was unconscious in the water but came around quite quickly on the shore.’
Now a practising Senior Counsel (SC) advocate, Stais said wryly: ‘I’ve pulled out people from the sea in Plettenberg Bay but this is the first time in “international waters”‘.
His deeds quickly became national news in China, and the local public security division of Nanjing’s Qinhuai district organised a hasty press conference at a local hotel. ‘It was quite moving and actually a bit embarrassing because I honestly think any person would have done the same in that particular situation.’
At the press conference, attended by a host of local media, Stais was presented with an official engraved certificate to commemorate his efforts. ’There was also a form of monetary reward which I asked the local authorties to donate to one of the local charities, something like trauma counselling for example.
‘I really don’t want this to take away the publicity for Team South Africa though. The focus should still be on the team and their performances but any positive media for the team is good I guess.’
Indeed, medals aside, Team South Africa and their connections will leave Nanjing with the spirit of Ubuntu and compassion close to their hearts.’
Stais junior wraps up her equestrian endeavours on Saturday and Sunday.