June 16, 2021 started as an ordinary day for Loveland resident Rachel Metcalf, a Senior Girl Scout for troop 71106, otherwise known as the GECCCOs (Girls Experiencing Camping Canoeing and Cycling Outdoors). Little did she know that before the end of it, a sudden change in the weather would turn the unremarkable day into a test of her strength and resolve.
The recent Mountain View High School graduate was leading a canoe day camp for younger Girl Scouts and their siblings at Boyd Lake State Park, an activity she’d been participating in annually since middle school.
Metcalf was on shore observing her fellow troop members and campers out on the water when she noticed an ominous shift in the weather.
“A thing that I’ve learned through day camp is there’s a point where the wind gets just a little bit too much,” she said.
Metcalf had been expecting an afternoon shower, but something told her this was no ordinary summer storm. Then she saw the “wall of dust” descending on the lake and knew she had to act.
“It was at that point where people were starting to be blown farther away from shore faster than they could paddle back in. And I could tell that they weren’t probably strong enough to get back in,” she said.
After alerting troop leaders of the oncoming danger, she jumped in her kayak and started paddling toward the campers.
“It was almost purely instinct–to just keep paddling and just keep the motion going. There was an inflatable raft that flew at my head, and it was like one of those things from The Matrix,” she said, bending backwards to demonstrate how she dodged it.
By the time she reached the canoes, many had capsized in the microburst, expelling their occupants. Remaining calm, Metcalf assisted several of the campers back into their boats, and then towed them safely to shore.
No one was injured in the incident, and the only damage was to troop leader Robyn Metcalf’s SUV, which is sporting a prominent dent in the hood from a wind-blown canoe trailer.
On Monday, Metcalf was recognized for those life-saving heroics in a small ceremony at Two Silos Park in Fort Collins where she was awarded the Medal of Honor, a national Girl Scout award for meritorious service. Surrounded by a small crowd of her troop mates, friends and family, she became just the fourth Colorado Girl Scout to be so honored.
“Awarding the Medal of Honor is rare,” Girls Scouts of Colorado CEO Leanna Clark said while presenting the award. “…Rachel, thank you for exercising the courage and competence you’ve built during 13 years in Girl Scouting. To stay calm and take action, you and your troop mates were excellent that day. You epitomize what it means to be a Girl Scout and we’re so very proud of you.”
Afterwards, Metcalf was quick to share the credit with troop leaders and her fellow GECCOs, who also reacted quickly and calmly in the crisis, she said. She also pointed to the troop’s extensive training in water safety and the many, many precautions enforced by leaders, such as wearing personal flotation devices at all times.
“We all worked as a team,” she said. “When I paddled up and asked who needed the most help, I was pointed in the right direction. And every single time I looked, I saw people working together, and doing a headcount, just making sure that everybody was there.”
Longtime GECCCO leader Robyn Metcalf, who is Rachel’s mother, also praised the troop’s quick-thinking actions during the incident, saying that “it could have turned out so much differently.”
“You kept calm and kept your head about you and each one of you played a different part once the situation started to happen,” she said. “It’s just the leadership, camaraderie, and the staying together that meant so much. With the courage and the strength that you’ve gotten, the leadership that you’ve gotten, through all the amazing things that you’ve learned in Girl Scouts, it’s going be so fun to watch you grow.”
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