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Cottage Grove Scout’s daily ‘good turn’ saved a life

Twelve-year-old Tyler Kostelecky, of Cottage Grove, says the skills he has learned while in the Boy Scouts helped him save his young cousin from drowning last summer. Two weeks before the incident, Kostelecky earned his swimming merit badge. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

Do a good turn daily. It’s the slogan followed by the more than 2 million Boy Scouts across the country. And for 12-year-old Tyler Kostelecky, of Cottage Grove, saving a life last summer was simply his good turn for the day.

A student at Oltman Middle School, Tyler was recently presented with the Medal of Merit, one of the organization’s highest honors, by his troop in recognition of his quick-thinking actions that saved his cousin from drowning.

June 22, 2013, is a date Tyler said he won’t soon forget. What started out like any other summer afternoon at his aunt’s house in Hudson, Wis., quickly turned into a family’s worst nightmare.

Several people had gathered at the home for a family reunion pool party.

“We were all hanging out at my sister’s pool at her house, having a great time with family,” Tyler’s step-mother, Katie, recalled. “We were talking and eating. We had our backs turned.”

Roughly two weeks earlier, Tyler had completed his swimming merit badge and was putting his sharpened water skills to use in the pool when he noticed his 3-year-old cousin several feet away having trouble. Tyler’s father, Craig, said that no one was immediately aware that the child had jumped in.

“He had arm floaties on at one point but when he jumped in he didn’t have them on,” Tyler said. “I noticed his head go under and then someone screamed, ‘Oh my God, he’s drowning.’”

He said his Boy Scout training and natural instinct kicked in, allowing him to swim faster than he ever had before. He knew the toddler could not swim on his own, so Tyler held his breath, ducked under water and used his upper body strength to keep the child’s head above water.

“Tyler was underwater the entire time as he brought his cousin to the edge of the pool,” Craig said.

“I just kept thinking, ‘Keep him above the water, and keep holding your breath,’” Tyler said. “I don’t know how long I held my breath for, I wasn’t counting.”

The Kostelecky family said the event appeared to take place in slow motion, when in reality it happened in mere seconds.

Once at the edge of the pool, family members rushed to assist Tyler and his cousin, checking to make sure both were OK. Craig said he knew the 3-year-old had swallowed some water but because of Tyler’s quick actions, he wasn’t under for very long.

“Once Tyler caught his breath I just looked at him and said, ‘You just saved somebody’s life,’” Katie said through tears. “It’s still very emotional for me.”

The Boy Scouts of America began awarding the Medal of Merit in 1945. Since then, about 6,500 have been given out, a number Craig said puts his son among prestigious company.

The medal recognizes both youth members and adult leaders who have performed an outstanding act of service and displayed exceptional character that reflects an extraordinary concern for safety and well-being of others.

While he has only been in the Boy Scouts for just over a year, Tyler said he has hopes of earning the organization’s top distinction, Eagle Scout.

Reflecting on that summer afternoon, Tyler said he knew what he did was seen as heroic, but said the skills he learned in the Boy Scouts allowed him to take action. And if put in the scenario again, Tyler said he would only change one thing.

“I would like to swim faster, just so that no one worries.”