Milford teen carries out heroic rescue in West Virginia

Troy Donavon resting on a raft after rescuing 2 people from West Virginia’s New River. Submitted photo

HINTON, W.Va — Troy Donavon, a rising senior at Milford High School, might be best known for his lacrosse skills and his role on the cross country team, but he’s a good swimmer, too.

While on vacation last week, he rescued two people from a set of roaring rapids on West Virginia’s wide, mighty New River.

“I mean, it wasn’t really a big deal,” Mr. Donavon said.

On Friday, Aug. 7, Mr. Donavon was on vacation with his mom Kerry Welch and his stepdad Chris Welch in Hinton, near where Mr. Welch grew up. The family was staying at a campground near town and decided to spend the day tubing.

At the end of their river excursion, the family was relaxing in the water near the riverbank. That’s when something caught Mr. Donavon’s eye.

“Troy had seen a kayak and I believe a shoe and an oar floating down the river in the middle, and he was itching to swim out there and save it,” Ms. Welch said. “I told him that his life is a little bit more important than a $200 kayak that somebody lost.”

But there was something else in the river as well.

“Then we saw two people floating down the river,” Ms. Welch said. “Troy went over towards the rock, further out, and hollered out to ask if they needed help, and they did.”

With no regard for his own safety, Mr. Donavon jumped into action and swam out into the river without even putting on a life jacket. One of the people floating was a girl Mr. Donavon said was about 8 years old. Her legs were cut up from smashing into the rocks on the riverbed. Ms. Welch said the man with the little girl was her uncle.

“I felt like I should do something,” Mr. Donavon said. “I just kind of felt like I needed to help.”

Ms. Welch said the swim itself was a physical feat.

“The river itself is 280 yards wide, so you’re talking almost three football fields wide, and he swam out at least halfway to go get them,” she said. “We were told that if you didn’t get out at the campground where the end of our little trip was, not much further down the river were waterfalls, so I was terrified that it would take too long for Troy to get them out of the water and I wasn’t sure how far they would go down the river.”

Eventually, another bystander with a life vest jumped in to help and Mr. Welch put his raft back in the water and paddled out to see if there was anything he could do. But Mr. Donavon said neither he nor the little girl he rescued got into the boat. He swam her back to the shore.

“I’m sure that his endurance with his cross country running probably assisted him in a great way as far as having the ability to physically do something like that,” said Lance Skinner, Mr. Donavon’s cross country coach at Milford High.

The coach described the teen athlete as professional, mature and self-motivated.

“He fits into the team very well as a leader and he’s matured a lot over these last couple years of coaching him,” Mr. Skinner said. “In this past year, he stepped up as one of the top leaders on our team as far as on the cross country course and off the course as far as motivating the team and keeping the kids on the right track.”

Mr. Donavon said he doesn’t remember much from the incident.

“I remember going out there and coming back,” he said. “I was really tired.”

Ms. Welch said when he got back to shore, Mr. Donavon shrugged off any attention and went to go rest on a raft.

Mr. Skinner wasn’t surprised by Mr. Donavon’s willingness to help others or his humility.

“Our big coaching philosophy is not to just coach young athletes in school on the cross country course, but to teach them to be better people in society,” he said. “This is a great example that, what Troy did this past weekend and the leadership that he has… displayed on and off the course.”

Ms. Welch said her son was unfazed by the whole ordeal.

“He doesn’t think it’s a big deal at all. He just feels like he went out and helped somebody swim back in. He doesn’t realize how big the situation actually was,” she said. “He’s got the humblest heart, and he doesn’t want any accolades for it, but I think he deserves it.”