Eryn Olmo was working in the storage room in a McDonald’s in Raleigh when a coworker said she was needed up front.
“ ‘There’s an emergency,’ ” Eryn said she was told.
Eryn was directed to a woman sitting in a chair with her hands around her neck and a face that was both pale and red.
“She was calm,” Eryn said, “but at the same time I could tell she was scared.”
Eryn said she asked the woman whether she could do the Heimlich maneuver, and she nodded her head.
“I wrapped my arms around her and put my thumb under her belly button,” Eryn said. “I just pushed, and (a piece of cheese) came out.”
Last week, Eryn, 17, of Holly Springs and Grace Tharrington, 11, of Bunn were each awarded the Girl Scouts’ Lifesaving Medal of Honor, which recognizes Girl Scouts for saving or attempting to save a life. Grace was recognized for pulling her cousin to safety in a Virginia river.
The medals are reserved for Girl Scouts who have performed heroic acts beyond their maturity, said Krista Park, communications director for the Girl Scouts - North Carolina Pines.
The Raleigh-based regional council serves 28,000 members in 41 counties in central and eastern areas of the state.
It’s been at least eight years since a Girl Scout in the region has obtained the award, Park said.
The Lifesaving award application process starts with the regional council working with the girls, witnesses and their families to compile information.
The council then submits the application to the Girl Scouts of the USA, which makes a final determination on the honor.
After Eryn learned about the emergency on the afternoon of July 25, she ran up to the dining room in the McDonald’s where she worked for nearly two years.
“They thought of me because I was a Girl Scout,” said Eryn, a Holly Springs High School sophomore who has been part of the Girls Scouts since kindergarten.
Just a month before, Eryn had taken a two-hour course that showed her how to perform CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.
On July 28, Grace, a fifth-grader at Bunn Elementary in Franklin County, was visiting her grandparents in Virginia for a week.
After church, Grace, her two sisters, two cousins and grandmother had a picnic and went swimming in the Pamunkey River in King William County.
They were playing in and around the water when they noticed Grace’s cousin Emilia Bennett, 3, of Alexandria, Va., was drifting away in the strengthening current.
Grace grabbed a life vest, jumped off a dock and swam towards Emilia, whose swimsuit included floaty material that kept her upright.
Grace reached Emilia and handed her a strap on the life vest and told her to hold onto it. Grace swam back to safety, pulling Emilia and reassuring her that everything would be fine.
“Afterward, I felt like I was going to faint,” said Grace, who has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. “I was really tired and worn out from all that swimming.”
When Deborah Tharrington learned about the rescue, she was really proud, but not necessarily surprised. Grace is known for her ability to think and respond quickly, she said.
When Tharrington was putting together a map for the Medal of Honor application, she said, she started to get nervous when she realized Grace swam 300 feet to reach her cousin and then back.
“The current is quite swift, and it picks up as it is getting ready to go around the bend,” she said. “If they had gone around the bend, I don’t know if we could have gotten them.”
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