Worth the Risk

Campus News, Features — By on May 7, 2012 10:34 am

Missy and Nathan Schaumleffel

Nathan Schaumleffel fought exhaustion against the high, frigid and rushing waters of Sugar Creek at Turkey Run State Park as he attempted to save the teenager who was crying for help.

The teen finally hit a slower part of the river, which allowed Schaumleffel to gain ground and reach him.

For his efforts on May 8, 2011, Schaumleffel, an Indiana State University associate professor of  recreation and nonprofit leadership, was awarded with the Honor Medal from the Boy Scouts of America in February 2012.

As a child, Schaumleffel, who was involved in Boy Scouts, enjoyed reading the section of Boy’s Life magazine,called Scouts in Action, which featured people who received a Boy Scout medal for heroic actions.

Now, he is one of those people.

May 8 was Mother’s Day and Schaumleffel, along with his wife Missy and sons Coleman and Cooper, spent the day together. Although they had not planned in advance to go to Turkey Run, that is where they ended up, Schaumleffel said.

Schaumleffel and his wife took the children to the sand bar, under the suspension bridge, where they were teaching Coleman to skip rocks, he said.

That day the creek was unsafe for swimming or boating due to the high water level and swift current, even the sandbar was smaller than normal, according to the incident report.

Missy saw the incident occur, just as her husband did, as three teenagers intentionally entered the water with their shirts, pants and boots. In a split second, Nathan knew they needed help and Missy encouraged him to help the teens, two of which reached safety on their own. However, one boy could not escape the rushing water.

Due to his training in water rescues, Schaumleffel felt a duty to help the victim, especially after almost drowning in a similar incident in the Meramec River near Stanton, Mo., when he was 8 years old.

“When something like that happens to you, you never forget what it feels like to be helpless in the water,” Schaumleffel said. “Quite frankly, I had an obligation to pay it forward, and trying to do so without getting myself hurt or killed with my wife and boys watching, which was a real possibility that day.”

According to the Boy Scouts of America, the Honor Medal “may be awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save life at considerable risk to self.”

“You do it because it was somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s boyfriend.” — Nathan Schaumleffel

The first Honor Medal was given in 1923 and since then 2,302 have been awarded, with only 31 in 2011. This figure compares to the over 2 million Boy Scouts who, like Schaumleffel, have received the Eagle Scout Award. 

Although Schaumleffel may have lacked the rescue equipment a lifeguard would typically have available, he has many years of training in aquatic management and wilderness and remote first aid.
Schaumleffel became of member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 7 and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at age 16. He became a certified lifeguard through Boy Scouts of America at14, a YMCA lifeguard at 16, a YMCA lifeguard instructor at 19,  and has also become a lifeguard instructor for the American Red Cross, instructor for the Red Cross in Wilderness and Remote First Aid and is a Wilderness First Responder through Wilderness Medical Associates.

Schaumleffel admitted he almost aborted this particular mission in order to save himself from the cold water and the exhaustion that had set in from fighting the water.

“In one way it was a snap decision (to try to rescue the boy) but then while you are helping it starts to go through your head that you better not screw up and get so exhausted that you drown yourself and leave your family behind that needs you,” Schaumleffel said. “Risk aside, I knew what I was getting into and I knew how to save myself and those are some of the things I was considering at the time.”

Since becoming an Eagle Scout, Schaumleffel has stayed involved with the Boy Scouts of America, even though he has not had a child in the program until this December when he his oldest son Coleman will begin in Cub Scouts.

Schaumleffel has given 18 years of active adult service to the Boy Scouts through a variety of roles, including assistant scoutmaster, summer camp program director and Philmont Ranger. His current position is on the district committee where he has served as Scout Reach chairman for the past three years. The Scout Reach program provides scouting opportunities to non-traditional populations, such as minorities and people in rural or low-income areas, he said.

In addition to these duties, Schaumleffel has also been involved in an a program called Venturing, which is a division of Boy Scouts for young men and women up to age 20. He is an associate advisor of venture crew.

The Honor Medal given to Nathan Schaumleffel.

Schaumleffel and other leaders took a group of young men in the Venturing program to Hawaii in summer 2011, but before doing so, Schaumleffel taught and certified Adventure Crew members in American Red Cross Wilderness and Remote First Aid in March 2011.

When the incident occurred at Sugar Creek in May 2011, Schaumleffel said, he was “so thankful Ijust reviewed all of the wilderness first aid materials while instructing the course…just recently teaching the course gave me much more confidence in assessing the victim and treating him for hypothermia, volume shock, and aspiration of water into the lungs.”

Schaumleffel received the Honor Medal in February 2012 in a ceremony at Camp Wildwood in Terre Haute.

The incident at Turkey Run prompted the Assistant Property Manager, Chris Newcomb, an ISU alumnus, and Professor Schaumleffel to build a stronger partnership between the park and Indiana State. Schaumleffel has served on the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Planning (SCORP) Committee since 2007.

Newcomb and Schaumleffel’s conversation led to Barbara Cummings, Turkey Run volunteer manager and interpretive naturalist, to guest speak in Schaumleffel’s RCSM-235: Introduction to Recreation Management and Youth Leadership course in Fall 2011, as well as provided some guest speaking opportunities for Schaumleffel and also increased Indiana State student presence at the park for community engagement and service-learning opportunities.  Professor Schaumleffel served as the guest speaker at the March 2012 Friends of Turkey Run and Shades State Parks monthly meeting where four ISU students attended with him. Schaumleffel also was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Friends of Shakamak Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet.

Like Newcomb at Turkey Run and Shades State Parks and Lynda Ellington at Shakamak State Park, many ISU students and alumni in the recreation management and youth leadership program go to work for the state park system and Schaumleffel has been looking for more orchestrated and integrated opportunities for service learning and community engagement with the local state parks, he said.

Since the fall semester a group of students have been volunteering at Turkey Run, Shades and Shakamak state parks for practicum hours for their major.

Although Shaumleffel takes pride in what he did and the positive outcomes of the incident, he also saw it as a duty.

“It is nice to be recognized, but you don’t do it for recognition, you do it because it’s the right thing to do. You do it because it was somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s boyfriend,” Schaumleffel said. “It was a person in the river and you do it to help, just like when I was a little boy in the Meramec River and somebody decided that I was worth taking a risk on.”

Alexa Larkin, ’12, is a media relations assistant in the Office of Communications and Marketing.


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