As a child, Alex Len was a gymnast. Then he grew a lot and moved on to basketball, first at Maryland and now with the NBA's Phoenix Suns. Maybe for his third act, he can become a lifeguard.
Late last month, Len was on vacation in the Dominican Republic with Ricardo Dickerson -- a former Maryland football player and the director of Len's charitable foundation -- his friend Jay Johnson and his best friend, former Ukrainian classmate Serhii Vysotskyi.
The tides were strong, and locals recommended the foursome not swim at their beach near Punta Cana. Len and Vysotskyi went out anyway, and the former Terps center returned with a warning for Johnson: "Be careful." As The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro reported, it went unheeded.
"Johnson, 39, planned only to get his feet wet but the water was so cold that he elected to jump into a wave. He jumped into a second wave. He jumped into a third wave. That time, he could not feel the sand beneath his feet to stand back up. He looked back for his friends and saw that he was about 40 yards from the beach.
'When I tried to swim back, I wasn't going anywhere,' said Johnson, a fair swimmer. 'The waves were coming so fast. Every time I'd come up, a wave would hit me. I was panicking. I thought I might not make it back.' "
Len sprinted into the sea and found Johnson "halfway passed out." Swimming is part of Len's workout routine, but he found himself knocked deeper and deeper into the water by the waves.
A nearby lifeguard threw a flotation device to Johnson and tried to haul him in, to no avail. "I was holding the float but he was trying to stay afloat," Johnson said of the lifeguard. So Len grabbed the attached rope, went underwater and, pushing off the seabed to boost himself, inched closer and closer to the shore with the pair. Before long, he could walk with his head above water, and the 10-minute rescue was soon complete.
Later, back at their hotel, a security guard told Johnson of the 7-foot-1 Len: "If he wasn't as tall as he was, we'd be digging out your body."