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EXTRA: Nick Schuyler sets the record straight

6:21 AM, May 3, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - Nick Schuyler has a quiet inner strength that not many people see.

He is quiet and doesn't talk about the harrowing experience he went through two years ago in February 2009.

As a matter of fact, it's not something he'll ever bring up in casual conversation, even though you know it's always beneath the surface, like a quiet storm brewing.

He's even reluctant to talk about it with his family.  He keeps his emotions to himself.

That's his way.

But even Nick knows that in order to keep the memory of his dear friends going, he must give in to the media, something he thought he'd never do.

"I realize I have to do interviews," he chuckled.  "But I don't like it."

No doubt you know Nick's story and you watched the nervewracking search footage. It gripped an entire nation.

It was supposed to be four friends on the Gulf on a fishing trip.  They were all football players, work-out buddies and friends. Nick Schuyler, Will Bleakley, Corey Smith and Marquis Cooper set out that day.

Only Nick returned.

He was found after three days of bobbing on the water in freezing temperatures, clinging to the motor of a capsized boat, alone with his thoughts, his fears and his desperate memories, knowing that his friends - one by one - slipped into the Gulf waters.

They tried to save one another, but it was impossible. The waves were more than 14 feet high.  They were gasping for air.  Hypothermia set in quickly.  They succumbed to the elements.

"You know when we were out there, we knew what we were doing," says Nick.  "Even through all this, I've heard so many things like, 'Why didn't he do this?'"

Nick still can't believe that people ask him why he did the things he did when he was on the water. "People are going to say what they wanna say," he said, shaking his head. "I had to set the story straight because of all the rumors going on. I couldn't take it."

And that's what he's done.

Nick told his story to HBO Sports first.  It was an emotional experience that took him three hours of draining interviews to complete.  In fact, he didn't know if he was going to actually do the interview until that morning.  He was that unsure about telling his story.

He decided that day and finished recalling those final moments.

"I was exhausted," he says.

Then, there was Oprah.  It was another draining day, as he stared out into the audience at women drying their eyes, as they lowered their heads in silence.

Then, there was the book "Not Without Hope." Nick says he felt compelled to tell his story.  He even asked permission from Will Bleakley's parents to write the book.

"The Bleakleys have been supportive from day one," he admits.  "They always have. They saw it as, 'Look, you need to write a book.  You need to get the story out there and then do your publicity stuff.' They've been supportive and they know I can make my own decisions.  It's all been for their son and toward their son."

Nick wants people to know. That's all it was ever about - his friends and their memories, not money or fame. He says, "I've turned down so many things, as far as money goes, that I could've made a quick buck.   But it doesn't benefit me or them in any way.  So, why bother?  Once again, I wrote that book, not for myself, because that wasn't important to me, but for the families, you know, and to set the story straight about, you know, their brothers or kids."

But he took some heat for it.

Some people said that he was trying to cash in on the tragedy.  That coudn't be farther from the truth.  Nick wanted people to know how much he misses his friends, how he wants to raise scholarship money for them and how he's grateful to be alive.

After the Bleakleys gave their blessing, Nick wrote the book.  Will's father is having a difficult time reading it, seeing the details of those final hours in print. As for Corey's family, Nick speaks with his sister from tine to time. But it's the relationship with the wife of Marquis Cooper, Rebekkah, that seems to upset him the most. She moved back to her homestate of Washington and will not talk to Nick. The same goes for Bruce Cooper, Nick's father.

But, he completely understands. He says he knows they need time.

"She said some things, that she wanted to distance herself from myself and the media," Nick said. "I one thousand percent understand.  You know, that hurt, and it's sad, but I hope that one day we can establish some kind of relationship. But I respect that. You know, she's going to deal with things the way that she is and so is everybody else."

Nick says he knows the truth and wants to honor those who were there that weekend. He said, "I don't care if you have a movie. I don't care if you have a book.  You can't explain cold, you can't explain scary, you can't explain dark, you know, the things we went through. I don't wish that upon anybody, of course."

He wants the memories of his friends to be strong and positive. That's what upset him the most, when people questioned that.

"To hear the things that were said about the guys, that's the thing that set me off," Nick said.  "The things about Will, the things he did for me out there, you know, when it was just the two of us, you know, that's one of the main reasons I'm here.  So, the book says it all.  That's why I wrote it."

Nick is honoring his friends with a charity football tournament on May 14 & 15 where people can come together for a good cause and raise scholarship money in Will's name.  He is raising money through the Nick Schuyler Foundation.

He still stares at the water and thinks of his buddies.  He still hasn't gone back out on the water in a boat, or swimming for that matter.

Nick admits, "I went swimming one night in the pool, to swim some laps, and it was dark.  I didn't think anything of it and I jumped in that pool and the waves crashed and I couldn't really see and I got out and I got sick.  Yeah, it was just something that I hadn't experienced before and that was like over a year later."

He misses his friends. Plain and simple.

In his home, he has words like "Strength" and "Faith" painted on his walls, along with anchors. He feels that it honors the lives lost.  Nick is hoping someday to have children of his own. Boys, he is hoping, that he can teach the power of friendship, faith and endurance, the same things his buddies taught him.

"I see it as my friends are still in there. I see it as, I am very lucky not to be in there.  Every time I go out to the water, I say, 'Thank you, guys. Love you, guys.'"

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