Ask Dominick "Dom" Sair, the former SUNY Cortland football standout, for the proudest moment of his life and he won’t point to a four-touchdown game or an all-conference accolade.
On Monday, June 27, Sair, a 2011 graduate from Huntington, N.Y., saved an 11-year-old boy from drowning in a backyard pool by administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
He has received hundreds of text and Facebook messages from complete strangers in the weeks since an afternoon barbecue at his family’s home turned into a rescue that landed Sair, Cortland’s starting running back for the 2009 season, on all of the local news programs.
A group of eight youngsters that included Sair’s younger cousin, his stepbrother and their friends planned to escape the Long Island heat with an afternoon swim. Before the group jumped in the water, Sair asked if each person could swim. They all answered yes.
“My cousin saw (the 11-year-old friend) going up and down and it seemed like he could swim,” Sair said. “But then about 20 seconds after, my stepbrother screams: Get him! Get him! He’s drowning!”
Sair and his father, Patrick, were loading soda cans into a cooler when they heard the shouts. Sair’s 16-year-old cousin, Jalen, spotted the boy at the bottom of the pool and instantly went down to pull him up. But the 11-year-old was heavier than expected. As his rescuer struggled to get the boy out of the in-ground pool, the boy’s head fell back and struck the top step of the pool ladder, according to Sair.
“He was unconscious from ingesting too much water but then he was also mildly concussed from hitting his head,” Sair said.
The same instincts that proved vital to Sair’s successful football career at SUNY Cortland took over and he began administering the CPR he learned in high school. His father blew air into the boy’s lungs while Sair delivered chest compressions. By the time paramedics arrived, the boy’s pulse had returned but he remained unresponsive.
“His eyes were open but he looked like he was gone,” Sair said.
Eventually, the boy gave a thumbs-up to paramedics. Within an hour after the boy was taken away by ambulance, Sair received word that he would recover.
“I’ve never been in a situation where literally there’s a chance of someone dying and you have a chance to help,” Sair said. “I was shaking at one point.”
Matt Steenberg, Sair’s position coach at Cortland, heard about the rescue from Cortland head football coach Dan MacNeill. He said he wasn’t surprised that Sair responded quickly.
“He rose up and stepped up to meet that call, a lot like he did at Cortland State,” Steenberg said. He pointed out that Sair changed positions twice during his career at Cortland without question or hesitation.
Sair likened his reaction to an approach in the final two minutes of a close football game.
“You’ve got to react fast,” he said. “And you’ve got to do as much as you can in that short period of time.”
At six feet and 230 pounds, the former business economics major wasn’t rattled by towering defensive linemen during his football career. Steenberg praised the former running back’s mental toughness and his ability to lead by example without saying many words.
“Dom might have been quiet,” Steenberg said. “But he expounded on his words with his ability and play.”
Sair said the rescue, more significant than a hundred Cortaca wins, undoubtedly marked his life’s greatest accomplishment.
“Football is temporary,” he said. “This was legitimate.”