Patti Clark is “The 12 minute miracle lady of Naples.” On her birthday evening back in July 31, 2018, Patti, her husband Emmett and their dog went for a Duffy ride. They returned to the dock and while Emmett tended to the dog, Patti stepped onto the dock. They stowed a kayak and a couple of paddleboards there. Patti tripped, fell into the canal, hitting her head — knocking her unconscious as the boards fell on top of her.
Joe Swimmer (Joe Bommarito) was nearby visiting a friend; he quickly dove in the dark water searching for her. While others called 911, he used techniques taught to him by Navy Seals to comb the canal waters, using his arms in a sweeping motion. After multiple attempts diving in the cold water with zero visibility he found Patti‘s limp body and carried her to the surface.
According to Emmett, Patti was underwater for at least 12 minutes. When Joe found her there was no heartbeat, and Joe quickly started CPR. When the paramedics arrived they were able to resuscitate her using defibrillation and rushed her to St Mary Medical Center. Of course, many contributed to the rescue, and the Clarks are grateful to all of them.
“It is unbelievable she survived,” Emmett said. Patti added, “When I came out of the coma, I told my husband about a dream I had. I was swimming back and forth at the Long Beach Aquarium in front of one of the tanks — and I knew I was going to survive”.
“Experts believed that I would not be able to think or talk again,” Patti said this week in an articulate recount of the accident. She continued, “I am one lucky person.”
Who is “Joe Swimmer,” the mysterious hero?
Naples resident Joe Bommarito swims in Alamitos Bay every day for 2½ hours and covers 3 to 4 miles — then he runs 4 miles on the beach. Sometimes he pauses along the way to dive to the ocean bottom to retrieve trash like beer bottles and he leaves them on the docks. When he was 7 years old, he first snorkeled in the bay, swimming and diving. He would change clothes in the nearby Bay Shore Library.
“I am a hydrophilic who gets his salt water fix by tasting the water, smelling, snorting it with each nostril, injecting it, and getting that tactile stimulation and finally a head and body rush throughout my veins and arteries and coming down slowly after finishing my swim,” Joe explained.
He successfully made a solo swim across the Catalina channel in 1984 with a posted time of 14 hours. He credits his coaches Penny Lee Dean and John York, who both have successfully swam the 22-mile Catalina Island and English channels. Dean cited Joe’s actual time as 13 hours and 2 minutes, saying it was not recorded due to a glitch in the timing system. On occasion Joe swims with the Peninsula’s Lynne Cox, another well-known long distance cold water swimmer.
Not everyone appreciates his passion. Joe’s addiction for swimming has impacted his love life — and resulted in a broken engagement. “She thought I swam too much,” Bommarito said.
He has been coached by Klaus Barth in the Masters swim program and trained with USA Swimming. In addition to being a long distance cold water swimmer, he is an accomplished synchronized swimmer and practices Shaolin Kempo Karate. Back in the days when swimming at the Belmont Pool costs 25 cents, Joe would swim three times a day until water polo coach Al Chen advised year-round ocean swimmers to not cross train in a pool.
He spent his career in medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center as a registered nurse and central venous pressure (CVP) operator — a cardiovascular tool. In addition, in 2005 he graduated with a PhD in environmental law from Pacific Coast University. Today he sells real estate; after all, he is an expert on local waterfront properties.
Next time you spot him swimming in the bay, smile and know he’s our local superman — doing what it loves most.
Special thanks to Greg Kight, who suggested I write about Joe Swimmer. If you have an on-the-water story to share, email me at Jo@JoVenture.com.