The young men had set out for a day of fun, following strict rules of kayaking. They scouted the river, even made emergency plans in case something went wrong.
“Once I dropped into this hydraulic, the water was so high, I wasn’t able to keep my head out of the water,” Warren said. “I was just barely out of reach of the ropes they were throwing from both sides. I was starting to go unconscious.”
Then, Yowell, at a strapping 6 feet and three inches tall, managed to paddle his kayak just close enough to the hole for Warren to grab hold.
“I wouldn’t be here if not for Oliver,” Warren said.
Yowell, a certified lifeguard and kayaking instructor, working this summer at the Robert Woodruff Scout Reservation, said he knew a rescue try would be dangerous.
Warren, who has since graduated from Tech and is headed to medical school, said Yowell reached him just in time.
Charles “Chip” Albo, a certified expert whitewater kayaker, said Yowell “likely saved our friend’s life…risking his own safety in the process.” What Yowell did “is extremely difficult,” he said.
Fellow kayaker Mark Petell said the “hole was so violent that it was dragging and holding” Warren under.
“Oliver demonstrated a great deal of bravery by paddling right up to the hole and allowing a drowning friend to grab his boat,” Petell said. “He did so without hesitation and at extremely high risk to his own life.”
Yowell’s parents, Maggie and Jason Yowell, say they know the sport is dangerous but that their son has adopted it with the passion of an Olympian and become an expert.
He plans to take a year off after high school to work more on kayaking. He then plans to study physics at either Harvard or Yale.