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Windom couple honored for saving man's life

When they saw a man struggling in the water, they sprang into action.

Windom Lifesaving Award
Michele and Justin Johnson of Windom received Lifesaving Awards from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and local enforcement. Pictured, from left: Cottonwood County Sheriff Jason Purrington, Michele Johnson, Justin Johnson, DNR Conservation Officer Dustin Miller, Windom Police Assistant Chief Cory Hillesheim. (Leah Ward / The Globe)

WINDOM — Justin and Michele Johnson don't see themselves as heroes.

Yet, in an emergency situation on the lake earlier this summer, the couple saw a man struggling in the water and sprang into action without a second thought.

The evening of June 6, the Johnsons were on Cottonwood Lake, where they are often found in the warm months. In the distance, they were watching another person enjoy the lake on a personal watercraft.

"I looked at my husband and said, 'I don't think he has a life jacket on,'" Michele recalled. A lifelong lake lover, she is passionate about water safety.

As the other boater sped around the lake, he lost control of the personal watercraft and went plunging into the lake.

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"Justin, he's not getting back up," Michele said to her husband. Only the man's hand was visible above the water.

In seconds, the Johnsons turned their boat in the man's direction. They hauled him out of the water and made sure he was breathing. Despite the scary situation and a language barrier between the imperiled and his rescuers, the Johnsons were able to calm the man down and reassure him that he was OK. Then they took him back to shore and called Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Dustin Miller, who alerted other local emergency services.

"It was just dumb luck that we were here," Justin recalled of the incident. "It puts a whole new perspective on the guys who do it every day."

Being recognized publicly for their quick response has been humbling for the couple, who don't think what they did was extraordinary.

"I think anybody would do the same," Justin said.

"I'd want someone to save my loved one no matter what," Michele added.

The Johnsons were honored Monday evening with Lifesaving Awards from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Cottonwood County Sheriff's Office. The award ceremony took place on the shore of the same lake where just weeks ago, their lake experience saved a life.

"Without their actions," said Cottonwood County Sheriff Jason Purrington, "the outcome of the day might have been different."

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