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.
While it may seem like an only-in-winter emergency, hypothermia can strike at any time — even in the middle of June.
On June 14, 2020, Marlin Reeder and his mom, Brandi, were lounging during a family campout at Eleven Mile State Park in Lake George, Colo., when they heard people screaming.
Marlin, who was 13 at the time, ran to the lakeshore to get a closer look. He saw an overturned sit-on-top kayak and a man holding onto it, seemingly struggling to keep his head above water.
“I immediately called my mom over, and she told me to launch her and her kayak into the water so she could get the man out of the water,” Marlin says. “I prepared the kayak while she put on her life jacket. I warned her about the risk, but she insisted that he wouldn’t stay above water for long, so she had to go now.”
The air temperature was a mild 60 degrees, but a strong wind made the water choppy and the day feel cooler. The temperature of the lake itself was measured at a chilly 54. That meant the kayaker, whose wet jeans and T-shirt were pulling heat out of his body, was in serious danger.
“We had already been camping for a few days in the primitive area and had experienced how cold the water was when washing dishes and kayaking ourselves,” Marlin says.
Ready and waiting
While Marlin’s mom paddled toward the man, Marlin told his dad to keep watch of the rescue from the shore.
Marlin grabbed a towel hanging nearby, ready to wrap it around the man when he emerged.
“As I paddled to [the man], he was slow to respond to my questions,” says Brandi Reeder, Troop 38’s committee chair. “I handed him a rope and asked him to tie off to the back of my kayak so I could tow him to shore.”
When the water was shallow enough, Brandi got out of the kayak and helped the man to dry land.
“I looked up to see Marlin running to us with a towel in hand,” Brandi says. “He had grabbed a towel from our camp without prompting, knowing hypothermia was an issue.”
After the man removed his wet clothes, Marlin gave the man jackets and blankets. Marlin and his mom sat next to the man — one on each side — so their body heat could warm him until the park rangers showed up.
“It took about 15 minutes for the rangers to arrive, so if me and my mom wouldn’t have taken action he very possibly could have died from hypothermia,” Marlin says.
The man was taken to the hospital and made a full recovery. For his outstanding service that reflects the high ideals of Scouting, Marlin received the certificate of merit from the Sam Houston Area Council, where Marlin is a member of Troop 38.
“He maintained a calm demeanor, responding to the situation appropriately without hesitation and without prompting,” Brandi says. “Marlin’s actions helped to avoid a bad outcome.”
While Brandi was quick to deflect all attention to her son, her own actions were heroic as well.
“If not for Brandi and Marlin’s quick acting and experience in these types of situations,” the victim wrote in his witness statement, “I’m not too sure if the outcome of this event would have been the same.”
Marlin says working through the Scouting ranks and learning first aid and water safety helped prepare him to act. Importantly, these lessons aren’t delivered just once. They are repeated and reinforced throughout a Scout’s journey.
“The consistent messaging of what to do and how to safely conduct a water rescue helped me to respond quickly and appropriately,” Marlin says. “I knew I wasn’t capable of the rescue myself — my mom was — but I knew I could help with hypothermia treatment.”
We hope nobody ever finds themselves in this situation, but optimism is no substitute for preparation. Scouts learn how to act when the worst happens.
“Trust your training, respond quickly but calmly, and trust that you are capable of more than many people through your experience in Scouting,” Marlin says. “Too many people now would rather video the event than step in and help. Be the difference and step up to help someone first.”
In his witness statement supplied to the council for Marlin’s merit award application, the rescued man says Marlin was calm and mature throughout the emergency.
“They lent body heat and continued to give me guidance to keep me safe as we waited for rescue workers to arrive,” the man wrote. “After the rescue workers picked me up by boat and took me to a waiting ambulance, they told me that because of the cold weather and wind, three people had lost their lives by drowning that weekend.
“Needless to say, I’m feeling very grateful and extremely lucky that Marlin and Brandi were there and selflessly saved me without hesitation.”
Review the signs, symptoms and treatment for hypothermia
Visit (or revisit) this BSA Safety Moment before your next trip.
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 Matt Maranto, council chair of meritorious awards for the Sam Houston Area Council, for the tip.