To the Rescue
THE ROPE SWING OVER THE WATER was tantilizingly tempting.
In August 2019, Morgan Harvey, 17 years old and about to start her senior year of high school, rowed with four teammates and two coaches across Lake Joyce in Virginia Beach to an island to try the swing.
They’d gotten permission from their parents to try it out. Rowing coach Mark Winters went first. After his successful plunge, each team member took a swing.
When it was Winters’ turn again, he swung out and let go. What happened next would nearly cost the 64-year-old family physician his life. Winters hit the water feet first, smashing into a submerged log. Coming up for air, he called for help. The team scrambled to pull him to the island’s steep bank. Winters’ ankle was broken in multiple places. Bone punctured his skin, and a severed artery was bleeding out.
The assistant coach, also a physician, and the team worked to stabilize Winters and called 911. They worried that rescue personnel wouldn’t be able to find them.
With her rowing partner, Harvey returned to the property where they’d put in—the home of Tom Ackiss ’64. Ackiss and his daughter, Emily Ackiss ’99, a nurse practitioner, rushed to the island.
“I’m sure the kids were wide-eyed,” Ackiss recalled. “But they got to it. [They] got him to the shore, helped stabilize him, kept talking to him to make sure he didn’t get too panicked.”
Paramedics finally arrived, triaged Winters, and transported him to the hospital.
The accident took place while Harvey was working to fulfill requirements for the Girl Scouts of America (GSA) Gold Award. She invited Winters to attend the February 2020 presentation ceremony, where he shared the story of her role in his rescue. As a result, the local GSA director recommended that Harvey be considered for the GSA National Life-Saving Award. Harvey, who recently finished her first year at Virginia Tech, received the award on May 15.
“I actually didn’t expect to receive any recognition for this because I kind of just stepped into action like anyone would do,” Harvey said.
Winters has undergone bone grafts, an ankle replacement, surgeries to flush out infections from the lake water in his wounds, and countless therapies.
Reflecting on his years as a rowing coach—and the day it all ended—he said, “It’s just a real honor to have ridden with them and coached them. They’ve helped me as much or more than I’ve helped them. Y'all should be proud she’s at Virginia Tech.”
Michael Hemphill is a freelance writer working from Roanoke.