By Katie Terhune Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho — When 70-year-old Jo Ann Conger lost her footing and plunged into a fast-moving East Boise canal Aug. 11, she didn’t immediately realize that she was in any danger.
“I thought, ‘Well this is a piece of cake, I can get back out,”’ she said.
But Conger soon found that she couldn’t. The steep concrete banks were too slick and the water was too swift for her to escape.
The current carried the woman for almost two miles before her salvation came in the form of a teenage boy, who leapt into the cold water to pull Conger to safety.
That teen, Timberline High senior Clay Kenyon, was honored Friday for his role in the rescue.
Kenyon was not expecting a crowd when he walked into his AP government class Friday morning.
The senior said he didn’t know what was going on when he first entered the classroom filled with school administrators, police, fire men and Mayor Dave Bieter. It was not until he spotted his parents — and the woman he rescued — that he realized that the crowd was there for him.
“It was a shock,” he said. “It took me a bit to recognize (Conger,) because she wasn’t soaking wet.”
Bieter called Kenyon a hero and presented him with a Citizen Lifesaving Award. Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson and Boise Deputy Fire Chief Romeo Gervais also congratulated the young man.
Conger had been picking flowers alongside the New York Canal when she slipped and fell into the water. She was first spotted by Dave Manweiler, an Ada County magistrate judge who was barbecuing at home.
Manweiler shouted to Conger and dialed 911 for help just as Kenyon rode by on his bicycle.
“I told him what was happening, and we didn’t even have a conversation; he just took off,” Manweiler said.
The teen did not hesitate for a moment, Manweiler said. Kenyon ran down the edge of the canal after Conger before grabbing a pink flotation device from another bystander and diving in.
Kenyon, a member of the Timberline High swim team, reached the woman and put the flotation device around her neck to keep her head from going under. He then began to tow Conger toward the shore.
Manweiler praised Kenyon for his quick response and willingness to help a stranger.
“Oftentimes we have that option of saying `I’m not going to get involved’ or ‘what’s in it for me’ or ‘do I weigh the risk and the benefit,”’ the judge said. “He didn’t do any of that. He just acted.”
Kenyon said that risking his own safety for Conger seemed natural.
“She needed help,” he said. “It’s just the logical thing to do, I guess.”
Conger told the teen that she wore a pink blouse and jewelry to the Friday ceremony to match the flotation device he’d saved her with.
She said she focused on staying above the surface as the current pulled her down the canal.
“I went under twice: both times I almost didn’t come up,” she said. “I saw all of those green bubbles and thought, `well, I’ve got to fight for the surface again,’ so up I went.”
Conger floated on her back in the current, trying to keep her head up. She called for help when she saw the roofs of houses, but did not get a response at first.
“Next thing I know, I heard this kersplash behind me, and it was Clay,” she said. “He had jumped in.”
Kenyon pushed Conger to the bank, where others helped her out. Paramedics measured the woman’s temperature at 82 degrees.
Conger told the paramedics that she would rather go home than to the hospital, but they insisted, she remembered. Kenyon said it was a relief to see the woman getting medical attention.
“I was worried something would go wrong after I got to her, that she wouldn’t be all right,” he said. “Once they got there and she was in good hands, I was able to relax.”
Conger, who was also on a swim team as a child, credits Kenyon with saving her life.
“It was an absolute blessing that Clay was on the scene that day and that he jumped in to save me,” she said. “I’m very thankful to be alive.”
Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com