March 2, 2009
SEBRING - Four Boy Scouts with Troop 808, two 12-year-olds and two 13-year-olds, were awarded a national honor, the Medal of Merit, for their role last July in rescuing a woman from the cold waters of the Nantahala River in North Carolina. The boys were vacationing at Camp Daniel Boone, in Asheville, N.C., and took a whitewater rafting trip on July 23, 2008. Ian Lockwood, Nathan Lamb, Justin Hough-Graham, and Nick Salter, were whitewater rafting with Shawn Graham, 40, their assistant scout master and his wife, Jackie Graham, through a section of swift current when they saw two kayakers in trouble. The man, named Curt, reportedly was holding his friend Veronica against his kayak with one hand while holding onto a tree branch with the other, trying to stay next to the shore, Jackie Graham stated. "As our raft passed, the boys asked if he needed assistance and he quickly responded with a 'yes'," she said. "You'd have thought they'd practiced this. The boys just worked really well together as a team; it was very impressive."
The crew began paddling toward the shore against the current to reach the couple. "When they were able to reach the shore, due to the strong current, we were approximately 15 feet downstream from them," Graham said. One member of the crew reached down into the cold water and held onto a submerged tree branch to keep the raft next to the shore. The bottom of the river was rocky, so the paddles would not hold the raft in place, she said. "Curt slowly worked his kayak toward the raft along the shoreline, while trying to maintain stability of his kayak and hold on to Veronica," she said. "When Curt reached the raft some of the crew members assisted Veronica into the raft while others held onto Curt's kayak to keep him stable." The victim appeared to be suffering from shock and had to be helped onto the raft because she could not do so on her own. Once Veronica was on board with her fiance, Curt was stablized on his kayak and the raft crew pushed away from the shore. "She sat on the bench in the boat in a fetal position," said Graham. "It took her a while to come around. She was really stressing when we got her. She said, 'I was scared. I didn't know if I was going to make it or not.'"
The victim told them her kayak got stuck in some rocks and submerged with her in it and that she had trouble getting upright and out of the kayak to keep from drowning. She said she thought another raft went over the top of her. Curt reportedly told the rafters that he was unsure how he could get Veronica to safety or how much longer he could have held onto her and the tree limb. The shoreline was too steep for them to climb. He estimated about 40 to 50 rafts passed them by before the boys offered to help. "They said, "thank you, glad you were there and they left," said Graham. They never learned the couple's last names. It was reportedly the woman's first kayaking experience.
"I first heard about this at the Friends of Scouting fundraising dinner," said Max Newgent, media chairman for the Calusa District, Boy Scouts of America. The boys recognized a problem and acted quickly and professionally and were not concerned about any risk that they were or could have been placing themselves into, Newgent wrote in an e-mail. According to Virginia Starr, spokeswoman for Fleishman Hillard for the National Council of Boy Scouts of America, 242 of the merit awards were given out in 2008. A total of 1,303 have been presented since 1999.
HONORED BOYS SCOUTS Four Boy Scouts were awarded a national honor, the Medal of Merit, for their role last July in rescuing a woman from the waters of the Nanthala River in North Carolina. The Boy Scouts were: Ian Lockwood Nathan Lamb Justin Hough-Graham Nick Salter Highlands Today reporter Joe Seelig can be reached at 863-386-5834 or firstname.lastname@example.org