Alum Bank, Pa.
Joseph Barefoot doesn’t seek attention for himself, but his actions to save a friend in a 2009 boating accident couldn’t keep him out of the spotlight. His heroic efforts and brush with death earned him a top Scouting award and recognition in Boys’ Life magazine and National Eagle Scout Magazine. As a UT Martin freshman, Joseph is receiving more positive attention as a key newcomer on the Skyhawk rifle team.
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, and homeschooled full time when he reached 10th grade, Barefoot split time living in Pennsylvania and Canada. His parents, Art and Brenda, own and operate the Bear’s Den Lodge, a hunting and fishing resort located on the Northeast Georgian Bay in Ontario. His surroundings nurtured a love for outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing. He participated in baseball and basketball before turning his attention to rifle in high school. “I didn’t have to be strong or fast. I didn’t have to be tall or anything else,” he said. “I just had to be able to stand still and shoot 10s.”
It’s maybe an understatement to say that Joseph is also accomplished in Scouting. He became an Eagle Scout in 2008 and has earned 12 palms or more than 100 badges. Not having a troop to join, he participated as a Lone Scout, and his parents were the troop leaders.
“In some ways, it helped me get the badges done sooner, but in other ways, I did not get to do all the same group activities all year round like other troops would be able to do,” he said. “But … I was an international Lone Scout, which allowed me to not only be a Boy Scout of America, but I was also a Boy Scout in Canada and reached the rank of Chief Scout, which is its equivalent for the Eagle Scout.”
All of Joseph’s survival skills learned as a Boy Scout came into play in August 2009 during a fishing trip on Ontario’s French River with friend and mentor, Dr. John Ryan. As they fished through the day, they approached a waterfall in an area called the Sturgeon Chutes. The waterfall caused a 35-foot-deep whirlpool in front of the falls. Rock walls were on either side, and water flowed around a small rock pile in the middle, a good place to fish for muskies.
While standing on the front of the boat, John hooked and lost a large muskie. He convinced Joseph to drop back into calmer water, trade places and try to re-hook the fish while John maneuvered the boat between the rock pile and wall. He took the boat too far; a surge hit the boat and slammed it into the right rock wall. John accidentally moved the boat forward instead of reverse, they hit the waterfall, and then they struck the left rock wall, spinning the boat in circles.
In the confusion, Joseph was able to pull on his life jacket, but when John reached to put his on, the boat flipped over. Joseph went to the bottom, managed to swim to the surface, grabbed some rocks on the right side and held on. But, he lost strength, and a surge went over his shoulders and pried him away from the rocks. “I remember spinning around and seeing the waterfall one last time before I went under the water again,” he said. He broke surface two more times, the third time farther out in the whirlpool where the current wasn’t as strong. This allowed him to climb the rock wall where he discovered numerous muskie lures digging into his pants and skin tying his legs together.
As he climbed the rock wall, he looked and yelled for his friend, who resurfaced minutes later in calmer waters.
“I ran into the water, swam after him with the lures still in my legs, grabbed him, and started swimming back to shore,” he said.
Joseph placed his body on the beach and began CPR, but he was unable to save John. A rescue boat came some two hours later and transported them to the marina, where Joseph was interviewed by three police officers. “All I remember is the entire event lasted about 10 minutes, and I know I held my breath at a maximum of three minutes under water,” he recalled.
For his actions, Joseph received the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms, the highest award given by the Boy Scouts of America. He received the award in October 2010 at the Badden-Powell World Fellowship Event in Ottawa, the only recipient during Scouting’s centennial year and the 247th recipient since 1938. More recently, his story was featured in a “Scouts in Action” pictorial in the December 2011 issue of Boys’ Life and the “Eagle Scout Profile” in the winter 2011 edition of Eagle Scout Magazine. He also received the Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner’s Citation for Bravery – the highest bravery award an Ontario police officer can receive.
As for the tragic event that led to his unsolicited recognition, he said, “I’m mostly beyond it. I will admit that there are days I think about it, but I just try to keep living on and try to keep his (John’s) memory living with me.”
The next fall began a new chapter in Joseph’s life as he enrolled in UT Martin as a business major and a member of Coach Bob Beard’s Skyhawk rifle team. So far, he’s adjusted well to college life and NCAA rifle competition.
“The college experience was a little bit different than my norm, but I have competed in just as big, if not bigger events. … “ he said.
His best collegiate performance to date was at Ole Miss where he placed first for both small bore and air rifle.
Plenty of rifle competition and academic work lie ahead for Joseph, but he’s already considering several options after college.
“I could take over my parents’ business in the near future, or I might be able to run my own business, or I might do something else completely different. Still have some time to think and make some decisions.”
Expect Joseph Barefoot to echo the Boy Scouts motto “Be Prepared,” no matter what life brings his way.
|Joseph Barefoot received the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms in October 2010 at the Badden-Powell World Fellowship Event in Ottawa. He is pictured with his parents, Brenda and Art, and other Scouting officials.|