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Guelph teen receives North America award for saving kayaker

Carnegie Hero Fund Commission celebrates Guelph's Jamey Klassen
Jamey Klassen submitted
Jamey Klassen

It’s been nearly a year since Jamey Klassen came to the rescue of a drowning kayaker off a Collingwood-area beach – an act that’s earned the then-16-year-old Guelphite a North American award in recognition of her bravery in the face of personal danger.

“(She) selflessly risked her life for another human being. That should inspire all of us,” said Eric Zahren, president of the Pittsburgh, PA-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. “Anytime you see a 16-year-old take this type of action, to me it always stands out.

“When you see younger people display this type of maturity, responsibility to the extent that they’re willing to risk their life for another human being … it kind of gives you hope for the future.”

On July 26 of last year, Klassen was at a beach near Collingwood when she overheard some people on the phone with 911 reporting a kayaker who had overturned and not resurfaced. Wanting to help, the aspiring lifeguard put her skills into action and swam out about 200 metres to the man’s kayak.

It’s then she noticed he was about four metres below the surface and dove down to retrieve him. 

As she held the man with one arm, she used the other to swim toward shore as she shouted for help. 

A man on a paddleboard answered her call and took the 40-year-old man the rest of the way to shore, where paramedics had just arrived and were able to revive him.

“Last I heard he was doing well. There was no brain injury or anything,” Klassen said, noting the man called her at Christmas and New Year’s to express his gratitude. “He seemed really thankful to be able to enjoy the rest of his life.”

Klassen is one of 18 Carnegie Medal recipients announced on June 23, along with 16 Americans and one other Canadian. The awards are presented to people who make a conscious and moral decision to risk their own life in an attempt to save another, with no obligation to act, Zahren explained.

“I feel so honoured and humbled. I never expected anything like this to happen,” Klassen said of receiving the award. “I hope this inspires others to act selflessly.”

Along with the medal, Klassen is slated to receive a $5,500 grant which she plans to put toward her first year of university education. She plans to begin the nursing program at McMaster University in Hamilton this September and will be moving there in the next couple months.

“I’m really hoping to finish my (lifeguard) qualifications at the earliest time,” she added, noting that’s been put on hold due to the pandemic.

Each Carnegie Medal is individually made for the recipient and takes several months to create, confirmed Jewels Phraner, the organization’s communications coordinator. Plans to present Klassen with her’s are in the works and likely to go ahead this fall.

If that’s not possible due to the pandemic, Phraner said it will be shipped to her.