Friday, February 17, 2012

I live in a valley of heroes

aerial view of Logan, Utah (Utah State University Campus)

A Valley of Heroes
I live in a valley of heroes. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it, especially in light of recent events. Cache Valley, located in northern Utah, is known for its agricultural roots, Utah State University, Aggie Ice Cream, mountains, cheese, honey, basketball, football, and especially for its people.
favorite landmark in Wellsvile, Utah

Today I’d like to reflect on the people.

There are everyday heroes who perform small, quiet acts that never get reported in the paper. You know who you are. You’re the woman whose best friend’s husband was killed in a tragic auto accident, leaving a young family of three children without a husband and father. You quietly set up fundraising efforts, spread the word, and gave some much-needed comfort and support to the grieving family.
Thank you.

When I was twelve, I was with my mother when she got a flat tire. A man stopped immediately, pulled out his jack and wrench, and quickly put on our spare tire. We tried to thank him. All he said was “Christensen’s my name, ma’am. You have a good day,” before he got in his own car and drove off.
Mr. Christensen, I haven’t forgotten you.

I have always considered the late Logan High principal Allison Dunn a hero. Not only was she a treasured friend and cancer survivor, she kept an eye on my boys at school and watched over them during some rocky years; they had great respect for Mrs. Dunn. Just months after she was declared cancer-free, the disease came back with a vengeance, and she lost her battle, never even reaching age fifty. I tried to tell her how much she had meant to me and my family, and I think she understood, during some of the quiet afternoons we spent together near the end. It was my privilege to be there. She remarked that buttermilk and Melba toast were the only foods that appealed to her, one day I brought buttermilk and Melba toast to her. When I opened the refrigerator, it was full of cartons of buttermilk; boxes of Melba toast were stacked on the counter.
Allison, thank you for being a wonderful, strong woman.  

Several years ago, a man delivering our newspaper smelled gas in front of our house early
One morning.  He rang the doorbell and woke us, the gas company was called, and the leak was soon repaired. We weren’t harmed in any way; he prevented that from happening. I don’t think we even knew his name, and for that I apologize.
You know who you are, though. Thank you.

Last September, an auto and motorcyclist collided just a mile away from my home, on a busy highway next to the Utah State University campus. The motorcycle burst into flames. Its driver was unconscious and trapped under the car. Nearby construction workers and students ran to the scene. They quickly decided they had to lift the car off the injured student. With a coordinated effort, they did, and another student quickly pulled him to safety. There was no doubt, officials said; he would not have survived if people hadn’t intervened quickly. His injuries were not life-threatening, though he’ll undergo quite a bit of therapy for some fractures. An USU employee was preparing to film a classroom lecture nearby when he heard the crash and the commotion. He grabbed his camera and began to capture the rescue. That video went viral. Many people were astonished and impressed and touched when they watched it.

student rescued from fiery crash
The family of the victim issued this statement: “Brandon and our entire family would like to express our deep gratitude to all of the people who stopped at the crash scene on Monday to help rescue Brandon. The fact that so many people would risk their own lives to save Brandon is a testament to the spirit of the community, and we will forever be thankful for these angels saving our son.”
Brandon Wright speaks from hospital about his rescue 

 Thank you to the everyday people who ran to help, for showing us that everyday people can accomplish great feats.

On January 31, 2011, Roger Christensen was driving two of his children and one of their friends to our local ski resort for an afternoon of skiing. Though the drivers in the canyon that afternoon were slow and cautious, the roads were treacherous. Roger saw a van slide off the road in front of him. The driver was able to maneuver her van onto a nearby bridge before it stopped, to avoid collisions. Roger gently tapped his brake to determine if he could stop if necessary. Instead, his car went off the road, plunged down a ten-foot embankment, and flipped upside down, landing in the frigid Logan River, where it rapidly began to fill with water.
site of Logan Canyon crash

Some of the front windows had shattered, Roger remembers, and he was able to get out of the car and catch his breath, but he could not reach the children strapped in their seat belts, one in a toddler seat, upside down, in the back seat. The doors and windows could not be opened. He hardly had time to feel frantic, he says, because within seconds, other people pulled over, saw him desperately trying reach the children, and scrambled down the embankment, where they jumped into the icy river to help.
When Roger’s car slid off the road and into the river, there was no time to wait for help. Paramedics could not have arrived in time to rescue the children. The strangers who stopped knew time was of the essence and simply did what was needed. One man later reflected that he didn’t even remember jumping into the river.
"Within five seconds there were eight men in the river, three to four feet deep water, and ready to assist and help in any way," Roger said.


As a team, they used all the strength they could muster and flipped the car over. One man who helped turn the car over said that as they struggled in the water, he suddenly felt someone very strong behind him, pushing, but when the car finally flipped and he looked back, there was no one behind him. He feels that was one of many miracles that took place on milepoint 474, Highway 89, that afternoon.
 A private bodyguard and former law enforcement officer instructor who specialized in weapons training was one of the first to plunge into the river. He pulled out his handgun, (he carries a legal permit) and shot out the back window. Two children were quickly pulled out of the car, blue and not breathing. They were handed to more rescuers on the side of the road. The third child was taking gasps from a pocket of air above her head, but could not unclasp her seat belt. The man with the handgun also had a pocketknife; he pulled it out and cut her seat belt free.  
On the side of the road, one Good Samaritan, a respiratory therapist, worked with others to revive the two children who weren’t breathing, and tearful cheers erupted as they began to breathe again. Other motorists took the children into their cars, wrapped them in warm blankets, and drove them down the canyon to intercept the ambulance that was on its way. The children were treated for hypothermia and spent a couple of days in the hospital as a precaution.

Roger, the children, and nine of the known passers-by who stopped and assisted were recently featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where the children were each given a $10,000 scholarship toward college. Lavish bundles of gifts, worth $30,000 each, were showered on everyone in the group, and they were also treated to a VIP trip to Disneyland. One of the rescuers, a highway patrolman who coordinated communications with the paramedics and others at the scene, gave his gifts away to a charity that benefits families and children of highway patrol personnel. He didn’t feel right, he said, for receiving special attention for simply doing his job.
the children who were rescued

I’m sure Mia, Baylor and Kenya don’t understand why they’re getting so much special attention for being in an accident and rescued by strangers, but their lives will soon settle back to normal. No doubt they will come to realize, later in life, however, that others, everyday people, considered their lives to be precious.
Roger Andersen at press conference

 Roger calls the people who helped “heroes in waiting.” What a great description.

Am I a hero in waiting? Are you? Will we be called upon to perform heroic deeds?

No doubt you have already faced tremendous challenges in your personal lives, or in your families, and dealt with them quietly, nevertheless with great courage.
Perhaps you’re a firefighter and you face danger every day to protect everyone in my valley, and our property.
You may be a law enforcement officer working tirelessly to fight crime in the form of drugs and gangs, or even the reluctant city police officer who put on a big glove designed for handling dangerous animals, scooped up a terrified bat that was cowering on our bathroom floor, and took it to the open window to fly away to freedom.
You could be the one who arrested a group of teenagers sitting around an illegal campfire and drinking beer, took them to the police station, and called their parents. If you had not spotted them, the events of that night could have ended in tragedy.
Perhaps you walk the halls of our schools to keep our children safe from the harmful elements that have invaded our schools: gangs, drugs, bullying. The students admire you, and they consider you their friend.
For all of that and more, I thank you, too, our public servants who are on the job every day.  
You could be the mail carrier who opened the door to his truck at the end of his route one day, and found that someone had left a box of nine abandoned newborn puppies in the vehicle. You quickly took them home, kept the puppies alive and warm, and, with your family, began a round-the clock vigil of frequent bottle feedings with special, expensive formula. When the puppies were old enough to be adopted, you kept one and found homes for the rest.
I remember you, and I thank you for your kindness.
You probably will not receive a big screen TV for your private acts of heroism. I’m fairly certain you won’t get an all-expense paid VIP Disneyland excursion.

But you know who you are. And for being who you are, I thank you.

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