It had been an unremarkable jog for Mary Brookes. She ran the 10-kilometre loop around Elk Lake and rounded the bend to the Beaver Lake parking lot Jan. 24.
Then she spotted a woman waist-high in the water.
Remnants of the previous week’s cold snap still lingered that morning – snow on the ground and ice on the lake’s surface. At first, Brookes assumed the middle-aged woman in the distance was practising some form of cold water therapy.
As she ran closer, Brookes saw a handful of people were gathered around the woman along with a small dog struggling to keep its head above water about 30 metres from the shoreline.
Without so much as a moment’s thought, Brookes – a 44-year-old real estate agent and mother of two young children – ran past the crowd of bundled-up onlookers and plunged into the frozen lake.
“People were saying: ‘(The dog owner) can’t swim! She can’t swim!’ And I thought: I can,” Brookes said. “I didn’t really think about it. I just kicked my runners off. It wasn’t even something I had to decide. That’s all I thought: ‘I can swim.’”
A former owner of a golden retriever, Brookes remains a dog lover. She was simply not willing to stand there and watch the animal die, she said.
Tethered to the group on shore via a rope thrown in her direction, the 5-foot-2 woman busted through the ice with her elbows and midriff until she reached Maggie, a fawn pug barely able to keep afloat.
“It got to the point where it was difficult to break the ice,” Brookes said.
“My feet were off of the ground, so I was lunging on it to break it.”
When she reached the exhausted animal, believed to have been chasing birds prior to falling through the ice, she placed it on her shoulder and struggled to swim back weighted down by her new passenger. She called for a tug. Between her efforts and those at the other end of the rope, Brookes landed back on the beach after nearly 15 minutes in the water.
Cold, cut and bruised, but without major injuries and in desperate need of a hot shower, Brookes assured the ambulance attendants who had arrived on the scene of her health and drove to her nearby home.
“All I kept thinking is: ‘Thank God I’m fit’ because when I got back, I was pooped.”
Maggie the pug received veterinarian care following the incident and is believed to be in good health. Her owners declined to be interviewed for this story.
Brookes doesn’t see her actions as particularly risky or outside what anyone would do in the situation. Still, her efforts were heroic enough for one of her friends to call the newspaper.
“She’s a lovely lady and she has such a passion for life,” said Andrea Volnik, who contacted the Saanich News after seeing Brookes’ bruises and hearing the dramatic tale. “Not everyone would have done it and I can’t stop thinking about it. She’s a hero.”