Fishermen are known for their fish stories. But the story charter boat captains Mark Pisano and Paul Strasser tell is all too real.
Thirty-five years ago, Pisano and Strasser were piloting a charter back from Catalina Island off the California coast, when they came across a capsized boat and an orange life vest bobbing in the waves. Pisano jumped in and pulled out 9-year-old Desiree Rodriguez — the only survivor.
"That story, it really throws a loop at me," Strasser said.
"It was catastrophic. Imagining what she went through that day is unspeakable, really," Pisano added.
Her mother, father, sister, aunt, and uncle all perished in the incident. Rodriguez had been in the water for 20 hours when Pisano and Strasser found her.
"It was against all odds that she was still coherent and alive," Pisano said.
This was the last time Pisano and Strasser ever saw Rodriguez, but they always wondered about her.
That's until a podcaster named Phil Friedman invited both men on his show, along with a surprise guest.
On Friedman's show, Strasser and Pisano were reintroduced to Rodriguez. The brims of their ballcaps weren't nearly wide enough to hide the joy. Thirty-five years was not nearly long enough to erase their bond.
"When I connected with them, they brought a lot of closure," Rodriguez said.
Since then they have stayed in touch, and this week Strasser and Pisano invited Rodriguez, the aunt who raised her, and the rest of her family to take a little journey. It was Rodriguez' first time back on the ocean, and it was a journey that would bring her full circle right back to where she was found.
"I'm glad we could come together today and kinda heal," Rodriguez said on the trip. The bodies of her father, sister and uncle were never recovered. The journey was their first memorial — a commemoration of the family she lost — but also a celebration of guardian angels she gained.
"I hope to know you guys forever," Rodriguez said to the two men who found her.
"You know everyone says God works in mysterious ways," Pisano said.
Fishermen usually tell stories about the one that got away — but Strasser and Pisano will always cherish the one who got to stay.