Sam Stewart heard the screams and acted immediately, when 75-100 yards offshore, a boy and a girl thrashed in the water. Sam could see that they were struggling to stay afloat, so he grabbed two small boogey boards lying nearby and rushed into the water.
On June 15, 2012, Sam Stewart and his granddaughter Mabry of Sulphur Springs met five Cooper friends at Cooper Lake for a picnic and a day of swimming. The fun quickly turned to horror when Stewart heard a girl screaming for help. She was struggling to save a boy from drowning, quickly losing her own fight to stay afloat.
According to Stewart, the 16-year olds had tried to swim out to a barricade when, although an excellent swimmer, the boy began experiencing cramps and panicked. He thrashed around in the water, at times sinking below the surface. The girl managed to pull his head back above the water each time, but after more than 10 minutes in the water, she was exhausted. Several bystanders looked on, but whether unsure of their capabilities or in shock from what they were witnessing, none moved to help.
When Stewart finally reached the teens, he pushed one of two boogey boards toward the boy. The one board wasn’t enough to keep the boy afloat, so Stewart pushed the second board to him as well, giving up his own lifeline. Assured that the boy was floating on his own, Stewart looked to the girl and found that she was able to swim. He told the girl to grab one side of the boy, while Stewart took the boy’s other side, and together they began swimming back to shore.
After a few minutes, the girl grew limp and simply held onto the boy, forcing Stewart to drag both teens through the water. The weight of both teens was too much for Stewart who was growing exhausted himself. Making sure the teens could float on their own, he told them to wait. He let go and swam toward the shore until he could touch the bottom of the lake. Standing in chin-deep water, he was able to catch his breath, before swimming back to the teens and pulling them to shore. Onlookers finally waded out and dragged the teens to safety.
Stewart said he doesn’t remember much about the aftermath of the rescue. Once he was sure the two teens were safe, he collapsed on the ground overwhelmed with exhaustion and emotion. EMS was called, and the boy was given antibiotics due to the water in his lungs. Later, Stewart asked about the teens and found that they had both survived.
An Atmos Energy employee for 26 years, Stewart gives credit to the company for his ability to rescue both the teens and himself safely. Atmos provides safety training for its employees and holds weekly meetings in which employees discuss safety and how to react in dangerous situations.
“No matter what you teach on and no matter how big or small,” Stewart says, “What is taught in each meeting makes people think about safety and what to do in a difficult situation.”
Although praised by his friends, family and coworkers for his heroism, Stewart says he doesn’t feel like a hero.
“I’m just an everyday, average person,” he says. “I saw two people in danger and helped them.”
For his actions, Stewart was awarded a meritorious award at the Southern Gas Association Conference on June 4. The SGA awards its members on their service to the community as well as acts of heroism. Atmos Energy Co. flew Stewart along with his wife, Gerldene, and several members of the Atmos Energy Management Staff to St. Louis, Mo. for the conference.
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