Randy Mathewson of Fort Erie, Ont., didn't have to think twice when he heard two women yelling Friday afternoon that a man was drowning in the Niagara River.
He handed them the leash to his chocolate Labrador, Bella, and his cell phone, and started running down the shore line as the river carried the man in its current.
Mathewson, who was born in Buffalo and grew up in Fort Erie, said he swims, fishes and skis in the river and is very familiar with its power. He said he tried to coach the man how to get closer to shore near the old coal docks at the foot of Jarvis Street, just past the International Railroad Bridge.
"He was struggling," Mathewson said. "He missed the area."
Mathewson flung off his shirt and shoes, and someone arrived with a life preserver, which he put on, and swam out to the man.
"We were probably 250 yards out," he said.
He said he talked and shouted to the man, who he saw dip below the surface several times.
"He didn't fight me at all to come in," Mathewson said. "When I got there, he wasn’t going to last much longer."
When they got to shore, Niagara Regional Police were there to help get them out of the river.
"He just thanked me, he said, 'Thank you,' " Mathewson recalled
He said the two women who alerted him said the man, who appeared to be in his 50s, stood on the dock quietly for about 10 minutes, and then dropped into the water.
Mathewson, 55, a contractor who said he had surgery a week ago for a hernia and carpal tunnel surgery two weeks ago, said he learned to swim and lifesaving techniques at the Kinsmen Pool in Fort Erie.
"I swam that area my whole life," he said. "It felt like I had to do it. This guy was drowning and there was no way he'd survive."