By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Acting on his instinct to rescue a drowning couple during his Florida vacation last summer has brought a Laurel man local, state, and now national recognition.
Josh Weaver, a Laurel native, received notification that he has been nominated for the prestigious Carnegie Medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission based in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Carnegie Medal is presented to persons who sacrifice their lives for others. Founded in 1904 by business magnet Andrew Carnegie, the Commission was established following the Harwick mine disaster near Pittsburgh in January 1904. The explosion took the lives of 181 people, two of which were an engineer and a miner who went back inside to save others. Carnegie was touched by their story and set up the Commission to honor “outstanding acts of selfless heroism” in the United States and Canada.
Only two other Kentuckians have been nominated for the award since its inception in 1904.
Weaver said he never dreamed his selfless act would draw so much attention and that he was honored by the various recognitions he has received.
It began with an article in The Sentinel-Echo on July 24, just days after Weaver risked his life to save an unknown couple from drowning. Then came stories on area TV stations and a letter from Gov. Steve Beshear.
When he received a letter from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, Weaver couldn’t believe all the recognition one single act had provoked.
“I never dreamed it would turn into this. When you hear of all the Carnegies’ have done — with the steel and working with John D. Rockefeller — and then you see a nomination from his foundation come to your mailbox, it’s amazing,” he said.
His story was found by researchers who look for key words in media outlets.
“They verified the story with WKYT and WLEX and the 21-member board all agreed to nominate me,” he added. “I’m honored by all this.”
His claim to fame came while Weaver was vacationing with his girlfriend’s family in Destin, Fla. The family was on the beach while they waited for their hotel rooms to be available. The beach was red-flagged due to riptides but Weaver noticed a couple out in the ocean, seemingly struggling to stay afloat as four- and five-foot tall waves came crashing on the shoreline.
Without thinking twice, Weaver jumped into the ocean and began swimming toward the couple. The woman, he said, was struggling harder than the man, and he went toward her first, diving under the huge waves to keep from being dragged back to the shore.
“I could see the man, and even though you could tell he was close to drowning himself, he was trying to get to the woman,” Weaver said. “That’s love if I ever saw it.”
Weaver said he was exhausted from the effort, pulling the two near-helpless people back toward the shoreline as the riptides and waves continued to hamper his progress. But he finally reached a point where he could stand in the ocean, and spectators rushed from the shore to help them in.
“People told me afterward that they saw the couple but they weren’t sure enough of their swimming skills,” Weaver explained. “But I couldn’t believe that of the 200 people standing on the beach, nobody came out to help us until I got to a place where I could stand up in the water.”
It was after the incident that Weaver learned the couple’s names.
“They were living in Mississippi and were newlyweds,” he said. “He is in the Air Force and he’s called me a couple times since then.”
As for the award, Weaver is excited and honored, even if he isn’t the 2013 recipient.
“It’s still an honor, even if I don’t win it,” he said. “But I just went out to help some people who were drowning. I really don’t know if I could do it again, but I probably would try. I was raised that we need to help each other all we can. There’s a lot of negative things out there now. It only takes one kind act a day to change that.
“If I see somebody who needs help, I try to help them,” he added. “It’s what I would want someone to do for me or for some of my family.”