There’s a cool kid in New Hampshire that you should keep an eye on because I think he’s going to do great things. Name’s Aaron. Age 13. Soft-spoken, but gets things done. Still in junior high, but could probably be recruited early for the right price. What can he do? What’s he good at? Anything he puts his mind to.
Two years ago, Aaron was afraid to put his face in the water, but he had a dream. He wanted to get a Boy Scout merit badge in swimming. So we started a program of weekly swim lessons, most of them at 5:45 in the morning. It took 16 months of determined, dedicated work on Aaron’s part, but on February 3rd, 2005, I signed the official blue card that said he had completed all the requirements for the BSA Swimming Merit Badge.
Sleeping in does not agree with Aaron. One week after getting his swimming badge, Aaron contacted me to see if I could help him get his lifesaving badge. This is one of several key badges that are required to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. "Let’s go for it," I said. "I’m going to demand a lot from you to get this badge, because it carries with it a higher level of responsibility than the swimming badge, but I know you are capable." He agreed to the terms, and we started a new round of 5:45 am lessons.
To obtain the lifesaving badge, a scout has to swim continuously for 400 yards, using front crawl, sidestroke, breaststroke, and elementary backstroke. This is a big jump from the 150 yards required for the swimming badge, so each of Aaron’s lessons began with a 400-yard swim — 200 yards with fins to work on technique and 200 yards with no fins to work on strength and endurance. Once the 400 swim was out of the way, we worked on lifesaving skills, using the BSA lifesaving manual as our guide.
Aaron learned how to identify swimmers who need assistance, and then figure out the best way to help them. "Reach, throw, row, go" was the mantra he recited in sizing up every situation — until the correct response was automatic.
He learned how to identify all the objects on a pool deck or boat (kickboards, noodles, pull buoys, rescue tubes, water belts, water jugs, ropes, and coolers) that can be used to rescue someone –and then he practiced using all of them. He passed the test of removing his street clothes in 20 seconds and jumping in with a rescue aid — his shirt — held in his teeth.
When he got tired of towing me all over the pool, Aaron recruited his sister, Emily, to come in and be his "victim." He seemed to get a kick out of hauling her up from the bottom of the pool, towing her by the armpit or in a cross-chest carry, and dragging her up the ramp and into position for CPR. Emily got her revenge when it came time for Aaron to practice escaping from front and rear "strangle holds." He got better at that in a hurry.
To earn the lifesaving badge, a Scout has to demonstrate basic knowledge of CPR and how to recognize and handle basic illnesses such as heat exhaustion and hypothermia. So one morning we recruited my husband, Kermit, a volunteer EMT, to come and coach Aaron through those requirements.
As we progressed through the BSA lifesaving manual and kept chipping away at the requirements, it was great to see the improvement in Aaron’s skills and confidence level. When it came time for the swimming test — 400 yards with no stopping and no fins — he sailed through it beautifully. And when it came time to retrieve a 10-pound rubber "brick" from 9 feet of water, he did it with ease. No one who saw Aaron on his first visit to the pool two years ago would have thought this was possible. No one except Aaron.
It was with great admiration and pride — and some sadness — that on June 14, I signed Aaron’s blue card for Lifesaving. But the good thing is that, in signing these cards, it always feels more like a beginning than an ending. Swimming was just the start and Lifesaving was just the start for great things yet to come from Aaron. Congratulations, Aaron. And please keep us posted on your progress toward the rank of Eagle Scout!