When the mast came down

Russell Shapiro saves Mary Morano’s life.

Michael Cummo

The mast on the sailboat — something akin to a massive baseball bat — hit Mary Morano in the temple and flung her into the water, where she landed face down and unconscious. Her teammate, Russell Shapiro, struggled to right his capsized boat. “At first, when I saw her in the water, I didn’t think anything of it,” he said later to The Times. “I just thought she had capsized too. But then I noticed that she was face down, which is definitely not normal.” Acting on instinct, he dove into the water. When he reached her, he realized that she was unresponsive and that there was blood coming out of her nose.

As Russell explained later about the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School sailing team race against Tabor Academy in Sippican Harbor in Marion on April 11, it was a freak accident. “People get hit by booms all the time,” he said. But not masts. His boat, he explained, was turning toward the boat that Mary was on when it capsized, causing the mast to side swipe Mary in the face.

By this point, people on shore had noticed that there was something amiss. Sailing Coach Andrew Burr motored over to them, “I saw the whole thing happen from the boat. I’ve been coaching for ten years and the way the mast fell combined with the velocity and the physics of it all and the way she was hit, you can’t replicate it. All I could say was ‘Holy sh-t’. I thought she was dead.” He helped Russell get Mary into the boat. He said, “How mature Russell was really helped me a great deal. He could have swam back to his boat but he didn’t, that’s pretty amazing.”

Mary’s sailing partner, Ellie Reagan, remembered, “I didn’t understand what had happened until I saw Andrew and Russell and a guy from Tabor in a little whaler about two feet from me. She didn’t make any noise when she got hit, and I had figured she was just swimming on the other side of our capsized boat. When I saw her, though, she was bleeding out of her nose and mouth, and shaking really hard. It was scary.”

“I don’t really remember what I was thinking aside from keep her head in place,” Russell said. “We weren’t sure if she was even breathing. We were trying to clear the blood from her nose and mouth, and I think at one point Andrew checked her pulse. We weren’t really sure if there was a neck injury.” The trio were able to safely transport Mary to the dock, where an ambulance was waiting.

The hospital decided to keep her overnight, and she was allowed to go home the next day. Mary said, “I woke up in the hospital room and my family told me what had happened. By the time I knew what time it was, people had texted me and called me trying to figure out what was going on and if I was OK. It was weird that a lot of people knew before I knew.”

Ellie Reagan said, “There wasn’t anything anyone could have done to prevent Mary’s accident, so I think it’s good that no one feels like it’s their fault.”

At honors night on Wednesday, May 27, Mark McCarthy, athletic director at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School presented Russell Shapiro with the first-ever Vineyarder Award for his heroism. The award will now be given to any athlete who acts selflessly or heroically on or off an athletic field.

Russell will be heading to Tufts University in the fall; Mary will be a junior at MVRHS.

Sophia McCarron is a student at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and will be a frequent contributor to the MVTimes.