Laguna Beach Aquathon marred by tragedy

The Aquathon event saw a record number of attendees this year. Photo/Clara Beard

Excellent weather conditions and warm water greeted a record number of Aquathon attendees at Crescent Bay last Sunday morning, Sept. 25, who gathered for the highly anticipated 36th edition of the local event.

Aquathoners start their journey from Crescent Bay the Three Arch Bay. Photo/Clara Beard

However, the much-loved event turned grief-stricken after participant Art Salcido died of a suspected heart attack during the walk/swim from Crescent Bay to Three Arch Bay. Salcido fell unconscious after coming ashore to complete a swim portion of the route right before Victoria Beach.

Those present during the incident said Salcido collapsed coming out of the water. Waves began to pull him back into the ocean before Hudson Waggoner, a 15-year-old junior lifeguard from El Segundo participating in the Aquathon with his family, noticed the crisis and was the first to respond.

Waggoner and Stephanie Dufour, who was swimming with Salcido at the time, helped pull Salcido to shore and administered CPR until paramedics arrived on the scene.

“He was the first to jump in the heavy shore break between the rocks and risk his own life to save Art,” Dufour said. “His parents should be proud, and his junior lifeguard department should hear about his heroic efforts.”

First-time Aquathoner and junior lifeguard Hudson Waggoner. Submitted photo

Molly Waggoner, Hudson’s mother, said she remembered seeing Salcido many times while on course.

“Before I knew his name, I knew him as the “Blue Bandana Man,” as many of us were referring to him,” Waggoner said. “Someone even said, ‘I’ve never seen anyone do the course in a bandana!’ I remember seeing Art after one tough passing at the end of Brooks Beach. My husband, daughter and I decided to take the beach route instead of our group’s more sensible decision to go around on the street. It was high tide, and the sets broke up against the rocks. We barely made it through before my daughter got pushed into some rocks and scuffed herself up bad. Afterward, we felt victorious, if not a bit shaken, and there was Art – Blue Bandana Man -right behind us with a huge smile on his face giving us high-fives. I’ll never forget that image of him. It told me so much about the kind of person he was. I’m grateful for that interaction.”

The Waggoner family. From left to right: Jason, Kennedy, Molly, and 15-year-old Hudson, who was one of the first on the scene to help Salcido. Submitted photo

Waggoner said her son was understandably shaken from the event, and the family is getting help for Hudson to process it.

“Laguna seems like such an amazing community of people-kindred spirits in love of adventure and nature,” Waggoner said. “Something our family values as well. It was wonderful to meet all of the Aquathon attendees, and hope to see you at next year’s event.”

Besides being an annual community tradition, the Aquathon supports the Laguna Jr. Guard program. The event is close to a $9,000 donation for LBOLF.
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