Salyards MS student to be recognized with BSA Lifesaving Award

September 16, 2013

Sammy Armstrong

Salyards Middle School seventh-grade student Sammy Armstrong will be recognized by the Boy Scouts of America with the Honor Medal, a National Lifesaving Award, during a ceremony on Oct. 6 at Fairfield Baptist Church. Armstrong is being honored for saving the life of a 5-year-old girl.

Sept. 16, 2013—Salyards Middle School seventh-grade student Sammy Armstrong will accept the Honor Medal, a National Lifesaving Award, from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) during an award ceremony at Fairfield Baptist Church (27240 U.S. 290 Frontage Road) in Cypress on Oct. 6 at 3 p.m.

Armstrong earned the award by saving a young girl from drowning at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin in June 2012.

According to the BSA, “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 a life at considerable risk to self.” Only 2,354 Honor Medals have been awarded since 1923, and 52 were awarded nationwide in 2012.

Armstrong—the son of Cypress Woods High School computer science teacher Stacey Armstrong and Salyards teacher Kelley Armstrong—was vacationing with his parents and two brothers when the incident occurred.

Sammy, his father Stacey and then-2-year-old brother Willie had wrapped up a kayaking trip on Onion Creek when Sammy decided to go for a swim near the bottom of the upper falls. As Stacey and Willie observed from the elevated ledge on the creek bed, Sammy pulled himself up onto a large rock to take a rest. Almost simultaneously, Stacey saw a 5-year-old girl standing near her family at the top of the falls reach for a fallen water bottle. She slipped off the dry edge and the current swept her over the falls.

The child was rolled back under the 15-foot stone outcropping, which concealed her location from her panicking family members. Stacey and Sammy watched it all unfold in mere seconds.

“All you could see was the top quarter-inch of her head,” Stacey recalled. “Sammy was the only person down there. He looked around and got the bearings of the situation, and then he looked at me. I was scared to death but I tried to stay extremely calm for him. I said, ‘You got this. You have to get her out of there.’ He jumped in and went after her.”

McKinney Falls

The girl who Armstrong saved fell over the upper falls at McKinney Falls State Park. The water from the falls had pushed her back up under the ledge behind the falls.

Sammy, who spent four years in the Cub Scouts and the last two years in BSA, had earned his Swimming Merit Badge with the Scouts and was a former member of the Texas Terrapins Swim Team. He later told his father that his first instinct prior to diving in was to find an exit.

“He had a plan in place,” Stacey said. “Otherwise, if he didn’t have anywhere to go, he would have been in a worse position than she was in.”

Sammy pulled the girl above the surface of the 20-feet-deep water and began carrying her to shore. Stacey said he was still concerned because the child, in her initial panic, began to climb on Sammy’s shoulders and push him under.

“He was eventually able to get her far enough away, at arm’s length, to be able to talk to her and calm her down,” Stacey said. “He basically put her on his back and swam around the falls to get her out.”

The family of the child expressed their gratitude to Sammy, and in the 15 months since the incident have been instrumental in providing testimony to the BSA to help with the Honor Medal vetting process.

“They’ve kept in touch with us and with the Boy Scouts through all of this,” Stacey said. “I can’t tell you how many times they’ve said ‘thank you.’”

Sammy’s former national gesture of appreciation will take place on Oct. 6, when the Sam Houston Area Council of the BSA will present him with the Honor Medal. Sammy’s Boy Scout troop and other local troops will be in attendance to hear about his story of bravery.

“I think back to the incident and where everyone was in location to her. There was no way she was coming up out of that water without Sammy being right where he was,” Stacey said. “He saved her life, and I’m extremely proud of him.”

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