This magnificent system of ours, that takes a single cell about a minute to complete a circuit around 60,000 miles of blood vessels, is a system also wrapped with over 600 muscles, and it takes 17 of those muscles working together to form a smile. But it takes an unbreakable will to put those muscles to work every single day, and smile in the face of such trying times.
Let us now test that will.
Every hero, in virtually every great story ever told, goes through a time of darkness – forsaken in the desert, plunged into the perilous abyss, tested by the powers that govern. They have to, that’s how they’re able to show others the light.
If Shavarsh Vladimirovich Karapetyan lived in Ancient Greece, he and his lifesaving deeds would have become a part of Greek mythology on the same scale as those of Hercules. His heroic acts saved the lives of countless, and it all happened in times of peace. All of that on top of his athletic pretty huge accomplishment as a multiple record-holder and world champion finswimmer. He is an 11-time World Record holder, 17-time World Champion, 13-time European Champion and 7-time USSR Champion.
But amazingly he is much more than this.
Shavarsh Karapetian happened to be at the epicenter of an extreme situation in one cold morning on September 16th, 1976. A trolleybus full with 92 passengers was crossing a dam over the Yerevan Water Reservoir, which the citizens call “the sea”. The street car abruptly turned sideways, crashed through a low barrier and fell into 20 meters of water. The trolleybus dived into the water nose first, and there on the very bottom was the driver himself. It was impossible to tell the exact reasons why it happened.
That day Shavarsh and Kamo (his brother) had a regular intensive practice. Shavarsh had just completed his usual 20-kilometer warm-up run (a champion’s warm-up), when he saw an unbelievable sight – a trolleybus plunging through the air. And a few seconds later, concentric water circles covered the top of the vehicle.
They were not professional runners, but they covered the distance to the location of the accident with the speed of sprinters, and seconds later they were in the water. They were both equals and rivals in sports. The two brothers were the two best finswimmers and divers in the world, and it showed when they were needed most.
The trolleybus submerged into water ten meters deep. It’s hard to dive that deep without diving equipment, but the brothers had the ability to dive as deep as 30 meters. And the most crucial factor in that situation was speed. Both brothers are world record holders in short distance finswimming. So it was just a coincidence that they were in the location of the accident in that particular moment of time. Everything else seemed carefully planned. The older brother immediately took command. “I will pull people out of the bus, you will take them from me.” An instant later Shavarsh dived into the complete darkness of the water. He had to be extremely quick and efficient. Everything, every breath of air in his lungs, every move, and mental commands he was giving himself, were quick and short. Holding to the poles of the trolleybus, he kicked out one of the large side windows and swam into the bus full of shocked and unconscious people
Shavarsh reached as many people as he could find and quickly pulled them up to the surface. There Kamo grabbed the victims and pulled them to the safety boat. On that boat was their coach Liparit Almasakian, who was an expert scuba-diver and rescuer. He helped people to recover once they were in his hands. As for Shavarsh, he would take a big breath and dive in for the next victim. His only thoughts were, “I can’t waste any second. Save! Save as many people as possible.” He could not rely on anyone else, because no one else there knew how to dive to that depth. Some people tried, but did not succeed. Kamo himself could have tried to dive a couple of times, but then the rhythm of the two rescue teams would have been disrupted, and they would have lost the most important thing in this situation, their sense of security. Shavarsh was plunging underwater knowing that if something happened to him, Kamo would be there to help. Moreover, Kamo was taking each person not from the surface, but underwater. He already knew where to expect his brother, so he swam in his direction. And since he was less tired, he swam the last distance to the surface much faster than his brother. Those were the seconds they won, seconds the price of which lives were saved.
One by one, he saved 20 peoples’ lives (he actually pulled out more then 20, but not everyone made it). He spent nearly 20 minutes in the frigid water and accomplished 30 dives down to the wreck of the bus.
Bystanders who watched Shavarsh bring people up to the surface said that his feet and back were full of glass shards. When later asked, what was the most horrifying part of this, Shavarsh replied by saying:
“I knew that I could only save so many lives, I was afraid to make a mistake. It was so dark down there that I could barely see anything. One of my dives, I accidentally grabbed a seat instead of a passenger… I could have saved a life instead. That seat still haunts me in my nightmares.”
In the meantime, their father was watching them from the crowd on the shore. Each time his older son submerged, the father held his breath until Shavarsh appeared on the surface again. Later Vladimir said, “That day I died many times, but I also resurrected just as many times.”
After his 30th dive, Shavarsh lost consciousness. This courageous act has cost him dearly; he incurred heavy two-sided pneumonia and blood contamination from the polluted water. Doctors were unsure if Shavarsh would ever recover. His life was hanging on by a thread while he stayed unconscious for 46 days. He finally recovered, but was never able to compete again. Today’s experts agree that no one but Shavarsh could have done what he has done.
Since 1993, Shavarsh has been living a simple life. If you came across him today, you’d find a regular businessman running a shoe store in Moscow called “Second Breath”, and you’d be forgiven for not realizing the amazing past that Shavarsh humbly keeps to himself.
As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary. Hats off to you Shavarsh Karapetyan for being a genuine superhero!
Superhero (made in USSR) – Dugutigui on excerpts of an article by Zori Balayan