by Dennis Dalman
Kevin Hollingsworth, 19, of Sartell, does not think of himself as a heroic lifesaver; instead, he says he is a young man with proper training who happened to be at the right place at the right time.
He dove head-first into icy-cold water and saved a man’s life.
Although Hollingsworth rejects “hero” status, others feel differently, including the man he saved and the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department. On Oct. 30, the sheriff’s department awarded Hollingsworth the “Citizen Lifesaver Award” for his actions last summer. In presenting the award, Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said, “Kevin is a shining example of how regular people react to a situation and perform in an extraordinary way.”
It was Sanner himself who recommended Hollingsworth for the award. It’s the first time in close to 20 years the sheriff’s department has bestowed a citizen lifesaving award.
“I’m humbled by the award,” Hollingsworth told the Newsleader before receiving the honor
“I didn’t do anything beyond the call of duty, really. I was there. It was the right thing to do, and it’s what I should have done. With the training I’d had, it just came natural to me.”
It happened one day last June at the swimming quarry in Waite Park. Hollingsworth and a friend, Jordan Doyle, had just taken a swim in the quarry and were leaving when they heard a distant commotion. Then, a woman on the trail said, “He needs help!”
Looking back, Hollingsworth saw a young man struggling in the water, yelling for help, splashing frantically to try to stay afloat. Standing above the edge of the quarry, Hollingsworth took off his shirt and dove from a high rock 20 feet down head-first into the cold water, swimming the 50 feet or so over to the man.
There were many people at the quarry that day, most of them young people. When they heard the man’s cries for help, they appeared stunned and scared, not knowing what to do, Hollingsworth recalled.
By the time Hollingsworth reached the man, his head was underwater, and it appeared he was losing consciousness. Hollingsworth grabbed him and, doing the scissor-stroke with all his might, managed to tow the man over to a large flat slab of rock at the edge of the quarry. It was very difficult to lift the man’s nearly lifeless and limp body onto the rock, but he managed to do it with the help of someone else.
Seconds later, the man began to cough and sputter. Hollingsworth checked the man’s pulse, which was very weak. In the meantime, help was on its way – the ambulance and sheriff’s deputies.
After the dazed-but-relieved man recovered somewhat, he thanked Hollingsworth and shook his hand. The man’s girlfriend, in tears with relief, also thanked him. Then Hollingsworth and his friend left the quarry, headed home.
To this day, Hollingsworth does not know the man’s name. The only information he knows is he was from St. Paul, on a home break from military training and was visiting his girlfriend in St. Cloud at the time of the near-drowning. He was, Hollingsworth estimated, in this late teens or early 20s – rather tall and quite thin.
Hollingsworth credits his life-saving training in a ski-patrol unit for his saving the man’s life. Hollingsworth, who has always loved swimming and skiing, joined the ski patrol and volunteers at the Powder Ridge Ski Resort near Kimball. A life-saving unit that involved drowning swimmers was part of the course he studied.
“That’s why it just came so natural,” he said. “It’s because I’d learned to react that way in that ski-patrol training.”
In an essay he wrote for his college writing class, Hollingsworth described the moment of crisis:
“Time stopped. Noises stopped. People stopped. The air grew colder by the millisecond. Did I just witness someone die? All 200 people went from louder than a rock concert to as quiet as a funeral in a matter of seconds. At this very second, hundreds of thoughts were racing through my head without time to comprehend a single one. Time literally stopped. I went from being a diehard show-off to a full-fledged professional rescuer faster than the word death was able to sink in. From the depths of my brain, I instantly recalled the textbook procedure for rescuing a drowning victim. It was like I just passed my final EMT exam. I was able to go above and beyond, without letting a single thought interrupt my mission. I was not about to go home and let this sight haunt me for the rest of my life. I was not able to fathom watching the news, as two anchors half-heartedly tell Minnesota that a young man died swimming today. I knew hell was going to freeze over before this man dies.”
Hollingsworth, a 2011 graduate of Sartell High School, is the son of Sam and Susan Hollingsworth. He is currently a student at St. Cloud State University where he plans to study business. He also works three jobs: Scheel’s sporting goods store, Discount Tire and Auto and his volunteer ski-patrol job at Powder Ridge.