Peyton Hillis Recalls The Moment He Nearly Died Rescuing His Son & Niece From Drowning: “Not A Hero… I Call Myself A Dad”

Peyton Hillis

Earlier this year, former star Arkansas Razorback and Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis suffered a near death situation after rescuing his niece and son who were caught in a rip current while vacationing on the beach in Pensacola, Florida.

After saving them, he collapsed on the beach and was sent to the hospital with severe damage to his lungs and kidneys.

After an extensive stay in the hospital, he was able to recover and head back home, although it’ll still take some time to fully recover from his injuries.

With that being said, the former star NFL running back who famously made the cover of Madden ’12, is finally speaking about that near horrific day with Good Morning America.

Sitting down with Michael Strahan, Hillis recalled:

“It’s 100% a miracle that somebody didn’t die. You know it’s just amazing that we weren’t burying somebody…

The night before it was a bad storm, but you know I didn’t really pay too much attention to it. And when I woke up the next morning it was windy, it was beautiful… there wasn’t no flags, but then again I don’t put that on anybody.

I hear my mom screaming, so I look at her and I see her pointing out toward my son… said they were drowning. I didn’t really think anything, I just reacted and started running to the water.”

He said the scariest moment of it all was when he had to surpass his son to save his niece who was closer to drowning:

“I think the scariest point to me, was when I was swimming to my son and I have to pass by him because my niece was in more danger.

I knew I had to pass him up to get to Camille first, because you know if I didn’t, there’s no way she would’ve made it. And so I swam past my son, and got to Camille and she starts freaking out you know, ‘We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die.’

I said honey you’re not gonna die. You know that’s not gonna happen. The gentleman came and gave me a boogie board, and as I put Camille and my sister on the boogie board and pushed them away, and I knew I had to go back to my son.

By the time I got to him, he was pretty much limp. He didn’t have anymore strength in him to swim, and I’m sitting there holding him, and we’re in seven and a half foot of water, and you’re thinking you know that’s not bad, but when you’re holding a 130 pound kid and the waves coming about 10-12 foot tall and you’re just sitting there, you know you can’t swim and you’re holding him, you’re seeing the eyes roll to the back of his head and you’re thinking Lord please. I don’t care about my life, but if we can get him out of here that’s the only thing I’m gonna care about. 

Things kinda broke out to where I could walk my son out of the rip tide, and I could start walking to the beach. He kind of got some of his energy back and was walking back, and I was about 20 or 30 yards from the beach, and I just passed out.”

He then recalled being in the hospital, and being under but still being able to hear what everybody around him was saying:

When I was under, I remember I could hear everything perfectly clear, but they didn’t know that I could. I don’t know it was day nine or 10 into it, and I remember them saying ‘If he don’t wake up here soon, I don’t know what’s gonna happen.’ Like I’m freaking out you know as I’m under, but I can’t move, and they had the hose going down my throat. 

First thing I remember is my mom and my daughter and my sister standing around me. You know to their credit, I mean they all acted like everything was normal, like everything was fine, which calmed me down that everything was okay. But I was completely amazed that when I woke up, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t move my body I couldn’t get out of bed.

They (the doctors) said I probably wouldn’t reach full recovery for a year. I don’t think my lungs will ever get back to where they needed to be. Physically it’s coming along okay. Mentally, things with my head and stuff like that you know is coming along a lot slower. I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”

Strahan then asked how something this traumatic can change you, and he responded:

“It makes you realize what’s really important. If you’re not here for your loved ones, your friends, your family, then why are you here?

You know you can say you’re gonna pursue this career, make this money, find this wife or this husband, whatever the case none of it matters. At the end of the day none of it matters.

You’ve gotta respect the water. You’ve gotta always be aware of your surroundings. You know I think when you have small children under the age of 10, you know it’s very dangerous to just let your kids go out there and swim without life jackets.”

Strahan concludes by asking if Hillis calls himself a hero, and he said:

“Not a hero. It’s a very loose term that a lot of people like to apply into things that happen… I call myself a dad.”

You can check out the full conversation here:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock