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Her fiancé started to struggle while swimming. Then she saw a surfer approaching

Lauryn Valladarez and Pedro.
Lauryn Valladarez
Lauryn Valladarez and Pedro.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.


In 2009, Lauryn Valladarez's life changed. Soon after graduating from college, she moved to Central America to work for an international aid organization. Her time abroad was only supposed to be for up to a year, but life had other plans, and one year turned into six.

"I ended up doing research there, getting my master's [degree], and falling in love," Valladarez said.

The man she fell in love with was named Pedro. They worked together at the organization that had originally brought Valladarez to Central America.

"It didn't take us very long to figure out that we couldn't work together and be in love. So after a year and a half of working at the same place, we split ways with the organization. But we were still together and we got pregnant," Valladarez recalled.

During her second trimester, she and Pedro decided to take a trip to the beach to relax. She remembers it being a beautiful day, with lots of people surfing and swimming. Cautiously, the two decided to get in the water.

"And then before you knew it, we weren't touching the bottom. We turned around and were pretty far from where we started. I'm treading water just fine. And I noticed that Pedro's sort of struggling a little bit," Valladarez said.

It turned out that Pedro wasn't a strong swimmer. When Valladarez realized this, she started to panic.

"Here I am five months pregnant, about 100 meters from the shoreline and my fiancé can't swim and he's starting to really struggle. So my life starts flashing before my eyes and I'm thinking, 'We're all gonna drown.'"

Just as she was starting to lose hope, a surfer appeared seemingly out of nowhere. He could see they were struggling and offered to help them get back to shore. They gratefully accepted, grabbing onto his board as he paddled them toward the beach.

"[When] we came up on shore, we were exhausted and shocked that we were even still alive," Valladarez remembered.

After delivering them to safety, the surfer walked away without introducing himself.

Years later, Valladarez and Pedro now live in Tucson, Arizona, and are the parents of three children. To this day, she wishes she'd asked the surfer for his name.

"I always think, had I asked him his name, my firstborn son would've been named after him, because he not only saved our lives, the two of us, but he saved our future family."


My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Autumn Barnes