John Servati was killed Monday when the University of Alabama swimmer used his body to hold up a collapsing wall and save the life of his girlfriend.
Servati was killed in a string of violent weather that spread out across the south, leading to tornadoes and flash flooding. Authorities said Servati and his girlfriend were taking shelter in the basement of his home in Tuscaloosa when a retaining wall collapsed on him. The wall was reportedly under pressure from a flood that struck the area.
The storms that swept through the region created widespread destruction and have been blamed for at least 21 deaths.
On Tuesday, friends and teammates praised John Servati as a hero whose actions allowed his girlfriend to escape without injury.
“John Servati was an extraordinary young man of great character and warmth who had a tremendously giving spirit,” Alabama coach Dennis Pursley said in a university statement. “During this incredibly difficult time, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to all who had the good fortune to know him. He will forever be in our hearts and a part of the Crimson Tide legacy.”
Friends remembered Servati as a fun-loving young man and dedicated student — he was a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and had a grade point average of better than 3.55. University of Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said Servati was a “model student-athlete” who excelled in swimming.
“John definitely had a genuine heart,” Alabama captain Phillip Deaton said. “He was a carefree guy who always had this huge smile on his face. He was my training partner for three years and I can tell you that while he liked to goof around and have fun, when he stepped up on the block he was intensely focused – he was a competitor and an amazing teammate. As a team, we are doing the best we can right now.”
John’s mom told our team this morning he always wanted to be an Alabama swimmer, and he always wanted to be a hero. He accomplished both.
— Anna Rae Gwarjanski (@annaraeoflight) April 29, 2014
After John Servati died saving the life of his girlfriend, friends and teammates gathered for a prayer vigil Calvary Baptist Church — within walking distance of Alabama’s Aquatic Center.