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Turning tragedy into change: Bring a Noodle campaign raises awareness of rip currents

Published: Jul. 19, 2020 at 8:43 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It was just an ordinary day during their annual trip to Panama City Beach.

Last May, Louisiana natives Shelli Oulliber and her fiance Reece Cousin went out into the Gulf to cool off.

It wasn’t until they headed back to shore, things took a turn for the worse.

“I just knew we were swimming and swimming and we felt like we weren’t getting anywhere,” Oulliber said.

It wasn’t until Reece told Shelli to swim parallel to the shore, that she realized she was in a rip current.

“I clipped under the water and I just remember thinking I wish I had something to float on,” Oulliber said.

Shelli was in a constant battle with the current while also getting knocked under breaking waves.

All the while she thought Reece had made it back to shore.

“When I look over I see them pulling him under his arms lifting him out of the water. And at that point, I realized that he’s made it. I didn’t realize he drowned,” Oulliber said.

Shelli caught a glimpse of Reece onshore.

Bystanders were performing CPR on him.

She says a sudden rush of adrenaline is what gave her the strength to finally get ashore.

“The fire department responded and he went to the emergency room. The emergency room worked really hard but there was nothing they could do and they couldn’t bring him back,” Oulliber said.

That day Shelli realized she would be leaving Panama City Beach without Reece.

The tragedy sparked something in Shelli to research rip currents and learn what exactly had taken her fiance that seemingly normal day.

In turn, the Bring a Noodle campaign was born.

“That’s what got us to start the nonprofit. Trying to get the information about rip currents to people who don’t live in beach towns,” Oulliber said.

The campaign’s mission is to educate people about rip currents and encourage them to bring a flotation device in the water with them in the case they too get stuck in a current.

“If we could have just floated and knew a little bit about what to do, he probably would have survived,” Oulliber said.

She wants vacationers to have all the facts when they visit a beach.

“The thing that has been the saddest is to learn that rip currents don’t kill people. Not knowing what to do in them, kills you,” Oulliber said.

You can find the latest statistics and facts on the United States Lifesaving Association site as well.

Copyright 2020 WJHG. All rights reserved.

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