That's how he ended up at the beach that day. McGahey was a youth-league baseball coach, and his team had traveled from Georgia to Florida for a big tournament.
A few kids got caught in the Navarre Beach surf and started yelling for help. McGahey couldn't have known what would happen next. He just did what came naturally and dived right in.
"He loved to help kids," his brother, Jeff, said.
He helped pluck them out of the water. Then the waves swept him away.
"Man, I can't tell you what a tragedy this has been," said Bubba Smith, a USSSA tournament director.
It's been tragic for McGahey's family, of course. And tragic for all his friends around McDonough, Ga.
It hasn't been tragic for the rest of us. It is a shame that it takes a hero's death to appreciate people like McGahey.
"He was just a simple guy," Jeff McGahey said.
He loved baseball and the Alabama Crimson Tide. He was a pretty good pitcher in high school, just not good enough to get noticed by scouts.
So like millions of other guys, his dreams of being a sports star were replaced by the reality of hustling for a living. He became an electrician. It was a good living, but the 42-year-old McGahey wanted more for his wife and three kids.
So he had 10 rental houses around McDonough. Keeping them up took a lot time, and what leisurely hours he had went to baseball.
He coached every spring and summer. This year was special because he got to coach his 11-year-old son, Noah.
Like Little League parents, Little League coaches sometimes get a bad name. But for every power-mad man stuffed into a polyester shirt who thinks he's Tony La Russa, there are hundreds of guys like McGahey.
They spend countless hours teaching kids lessons about sports and life. They spend their vacation money on equipment and pizza and gas. All that, and parents sometimes still ream them for not batting Little Jr. in the cleanup spot.
If McGahey had that kind of problem, you wouldn't know it.
"He was just one of those guys that you never heard a negative word come out of his mouth," Smith said. "And you never heard a negative word said about him."
The irony is that if McGahey hadn't been such a good coach, the Locust Grove Razorbacks wouldn't have been in Florida. He was an assistant for the All-Star team, specializing in teaching kids his old knuckleball tricks.
They had to get through qualifying tournaments to make the USSSA 12-and-under World Series near Pensacola July 7-11. The website showed pictures of a little boy playing with a shovel and pail in the sand, gentle waves rolling ashore, and two baseball players hugging after a big win.
It all looked so harmless. But when the surf kicks up just a little, the undertow is tricky. A few days before a local man had drowned trying to save two teenagers caught in the surf.
It was about 6 p.m. on July 7 when a handful of players ventured into the water. Lifeguards were off-duty at that hour, and the boys found themselves being pulled into deeper water. McGahey and a few other adults ran in to get them.
The kids actually had found relative safety on a sand bar. As they were helped back to shore, McGahey said he wanted to make sure nobody else was out there.
"Then he got caught in a riptide," Smith said.
McGahey was a decent swimmer, but the natural reaction is to paddle directly toward shore instead of swimming parallel to get out of the current.
"They were yelling at him to swim at an angle," Smith said. "A large wave came on and toppled him over. He must have swallowed a lot of water."
He bobbed to the surface about 25 yards farther out to sea. He was unconscious when rescuers got to him. They administered CPR on the beach, but McGahey never regained consciousness.
More than 500 people showed up at his funeral last week. His brother placed a neatly folded Alabama football flag in the casket, along with a Crimson Tide scarf and golf ball.
All the little Razorbacks showed in their uniforms. It's hard enough for grownups to make sense out of these things. How must it have been for a bunch of 11-year-olds?
Hopefully one impression they took came from Smith's eulogy.
"If we all treated each other the way Darin McGahey treated everybody," he said, "the world would be a better place."
If only we could all be such regular guys.