This is Unsung Heroes, a Bryan on Scouting blog series celebrating under-reported acts of Scouting heroism. These are stories that don’t make national headlines — but should. That’s doubly true in this world that can always use more good news. Read the latest story below, and find instructions for sharing your own Unsung Heroes story at the end of the post.
Allow me to append four words to the Scout Motto: “Be Prepared. Because others sometimes aren’t.”
On Jan. 2, 2020, Leah Jo Maloney and her family were on a guided hike to the top of Mount Liamuiga, a volcano in the Caribbean country of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Though this hike wasn’t part of a BSA adventure, the trail offered the kind of challenging terrain that well-prepared Scouts crave. The 3.47-mile path promised a steep, muddy ascent through the jungle.
This group of strangers was woefully unprepared. Only six of the 32 hikers — Leah Jo, her sister, her mom, her dad and two others — wore hiking boots. And only one hiker carried a first-aid kit; by now you can probably guess who.
The hike up went OK, though a half-dozen people opted to turn back before reaching the summit. On the way down, however, things took a turn. A woman in her late 40s, unknown to the Maloneys at this point, slipped and injured her knee. Doctors later determined she had torn her ACL.
“It was clear the guides were not prepared to handle the situation,” Leah Jo says. “Fortunately, I had my first-aid kit and duct tape, and with the help of one of the other members of our party who was a doctor, we were able to stabilize the injury so she could be carried safely down the mountain.”
Leah Jo, a 16-year-old Life Scout from Troop 114G of Littleton, Colo. (Denver Area Council), has been a member of Scouts BSA since day one (Feb. 1, 2019).
In a virtual ceremony held April 20, 2020, the Denver Area Council honored Leah Jo’s actions with the Medal of Merit, presented to Scouts or adult leaders who perform “an act of service of a rare or exceptional character that reflects an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others.”
Council officials say Leah Jo is one of the first girls in the council to receive the honor. We talked to the Scout hero to learn more.
Using what she learned
Leah Jo jumped into action the moment the emergency began. She opened her backpack and took out pink scissors, teal duct tape and an elastic bandage. She handed these supplies to a member of the group who happened to be an orthopedist.
“I honestly didn’t think twice about bringing my first-aid kit,” Leah Jo says. “I never planned on having to use it, but I wanted to be prepared. If you want life to be an adventure, you’ve got to prepare for an adventure.”
Next, Leah Jo supported the woman’s knee as the orthopedist wrapped it to stabilize the injury. Leah tried to make a stretcher using clothing stretched over two sticks, but it didn’t hold. Some hikers took turns carrying the woman the remaining 3 miles down the mountain.
Leah Jo’s Scoutmaster, Shoshana Nash, wasn’t surprised when she learned about Leah Jo’s actions. Nash says Scouting prepares young people for life because it teaches skills not through YouTube videos or paragraphs of instructions but through actual, hands-on experience.
“Rather than a one-off class, the methods in Scouting create real absorption of the material,” Nash says. “Once that happens, the young Scout becomes the teacher, and that is when the true solidification of material begins.”
Back at the trailhead, Leah Jo wasn’t done. The injured hiker was driven to the hospital while Leah Jo reopened her first-aid kit to treat various cuts and scrapes that other hikers had sustained on their journey down the volcano.
“It seems small to [Leah Jo],” says her mom, Kim, “but it was, again, being prepared and willing to aid people in need. Scouting has so many ways to prepare young people for a variety of situations — especially those times that can be unpredictable and very intense.”
Leah Jo, who was 15 at the time of these events, should be commended for more than just packing a first-aid kit and knowing how to use it.
Her leadership at the scene was impressive, too. When an emergency struck, adults three times Leah Jo’s age froze. The paid guides seemed out of their depth.
But Leah Jo doesn’t see her Good Turn as anything out of the ordinary. It’s just what Scouts are trained to do.
“Be confident in your abilities, and never be afraid to step up when you need to, regardless of if you think someone could do it better,” she says. “In stressful circumstances, remembering that you’re equipped to handle the situation is always better than remembering you aren’t.”
Share your Unsung Heroes story
Stories like these brighten my day — especially because I know this kind of thing happens regularly in Scouting.
Here’s how to share the news of an Unsung Hero in your pack, troop or crew:
- Send an email to me with the subject line “Unsung Heroes.”
- Include a detailed summary of the heroic act.
- Include any “supporting documentation” you can. Examples include links to a story in your local newspaper, paperwork for a Scouting heroism award nomination or eyewitness accounts.
- Include high-res photos of the Unsung Hero.
Thanks to Kathy Borgais for the blog post idea.
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