LAKE NORMAN – Boaters who may have been apprehensive when seeing the lights of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Lake Patrol eventually had an outing to remember the morning of June 29.

As a way to promote boater safety and the new Academy Sports + Outdoors store in Mooresville, Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen joined the patrol’s crew off Pinnacle Point for a few hours to perform safety checks – and give away more than 100 life jackets and create countless memories.

“It was a really cool surprise,” said Deputy Chip Bednarick of the Lake Patrol, which shares jurisdiction over the entire lake with three other local law enforcement agencies, including from each bordering county.

While strategically positioned near the N.C. 150 bridge, Bednarick would turn on the flashing lights atop his watercraft to flag down boaters – they targeted pontoons with large groups on them – and told them he was performing a safety check – but had “some help today.” That’s when the bearded Olsen – dressed in a hat and blue Panthers T-shirt partially covered by a life jacket – introduced himself to the wary boaters and nerves turned into laughs and smiles.

“No one said, ‘Who?’” Olsen said of the six boats signaled. “I think they were a little caught off guard, A, to be pulled over by the sheriff, and B, why was I on the boat. I think once we told them what we were doing, what we’re advocating here – boater safety and water safety – everyone got it and was excited.”

Instead of citations, which Bednarick said weren’t even necessary, the lake dwellers got to take photos and get autographs from Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowl honoree, but also received life jackets and other safety equipment, as well as gift cards to Academy, which opened June 22.

Olsen’s parents live on the lake in Cornelius, so he gets to spend his fair share of his off-season on the “Inland Sea.”

“We spend a lot of time out here on my dad’s boat and spend time with the kids, tube and jet ski, do the whole boater thing, so we’re familiar with what goes on out here and how important boater and water safety is,” Olsen said.

Bednarick said his department performs several courtesy safety checks throughout the boating season, and that setting up in the no-wake zone on the north side of the bridge is an ideal place for those.

“I make sure you have all of your equipment, fire extinguisher, life jacket, horn,” he said. “You need one life jacket per person on the boat including an appropriate fit for younger children. All children 12 and younger have to be wearing one.”

Gunpowder Inc., the Wisconsin-based public relations firm that represents Academy, filmed the interactions between Olsen and the boaters, so after the surprise visits with one of the Panthers’ stars, they signed waivers permitting their use in videos.

According to Bednarick, the most common violations he comes across are creating a wake within 150 feet of a bridge or dock, and careless and reckless driving on personal watercraft.

Olsen starts preseason camp July 24 after missing seven games due to injury in 2018.

“With the holiday weekends and busy Saturdays like this, there’s a lot of action on these lakes; it’s very active,” Olsen said. “You just got to take a minute to understand there’s a lot to go into it. You can’t just jump behind the wheel and start going. There’s equipment, there’s safety procedures, there’s understanding of the water and boats and the rules, and if everyone could understand that, it would be a lot better environment.”

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