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Schools of Thought: Selfless takes no time off

December 8, 2008
By Bill Cain, The Leader-Herald

Cool things down and they begin to move more slowly.

Molecules move slower and closer together.

Cold air, cold water sink.

So say the laws of physics, anyway. Sometimes, though, things happen differently and we cannot help but take notice.

Chloe VanAlstine was jogging in Wells to get in shape for basketball season when the scream of twisting metal called her attention to a truck tearing through a guardrail and hurling headlong into Lake Algonquin.

Moving slowly was not an option.

A lifeguard in the summer, Chloe knew what to do and acted promptly. Somehow, she ignored the cold bite of the November water and swam out to the truck. The driver had freed himself from the truck, but wasn't answering as she called out to him from shore, so she swam out to him and took him by the arm. A man in a rowboat, who had seen the accident, rowed out and helped the two to shore.

Friday, the Wells Volunteer Emergency Services took notice and presented her with the Award of Excellence at a dinner in Speculator, "In recognition of [her] unselfish and heroic service to her fellow citizens." Wells Central School superintendent Gavin Murdock was on hand and read from the minutes of a Nov. 19 board meeting, noting a motion to honor Chloe for her actions, calling her "a great role model for students and adults alike."

Only problem was, Wells had a basketball game at Northville that night.

Chloe could have just skipped the trip to Northville, but that would have left her teammates in a predicament.

She was one of 10 girls who could make the trip. That meant if she stayed in Wells, the junior varsity game would have to be cancelled and a girl or two from that squad brought up to the varsity for a night.

Instead, coach Dayna Fisher, her assistant and her athletic director came up with the idea to play Chloe in the J.V. game and move a J.V. player up to the varsity squad for the night. Then Chloe could leave in time to get back to the award ceremony.

She jumped at the chance, Fisher said. A senior and three-year varsity player agreed to play down at the J.V. level for a night. Northville even helped out by starting the J.V. game 30 minutes earlier.

Ask around on your local varsity team. Ask how many would be willing to return to the J.V. ranks for a night. My guess is as you look around the room, there won't be many hands up.

It's par for the course for Chloe, though. She's as selfless a kid as you'll find, Fisher said.

How many of us would have acted decisively enough to get to that truck in time to make a difference and how many of us would have stood on the shore debating it in our mind.

Do I go? Or maybe just yell for help. Call for help. Water's probably pretty cold.

The posts on the message board below The Leader-Herald's online article about her swim revealed the answer for many people.

The fact the driver was drunk prompted some to suggest she should have let him die. Some were critical of her decision to swim to the truck instead of moving down the "Row, throw, go" checklist. Not having a boat or her lifeguard equipment with her, her options were limited.

Someone even had the nerve to criticize her work ethic as a lifeguard, an unrelated topic and one about which they had no actual knowledge, faulting her for reading on the job when her reading was getting done while there were no warm bodies in the water at Wells' beach.

She has not even read the online posts - has no interest in them - from anonymous cowards who would have her ask the drowning man to first fill out a questionnaire or answer a few questions she shouted from the shore.

"Hey mister, have you been drinking? I'm just trying to decide if your life is worth my getting cold and wet."

Luckily, she had more sense than that. Even if she knew the man had been drinking, if she could smell it on him from the shore, she has more compassion than that.

Having people like Chloe in the community who are willing to do things like this for their neighbors at great personal risk, that is what makes it possible to put up with those people who can only stand on the sidelines and talk about how it should have been done differently or not done at all.



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