Etobicoke teen Eric “Kick” Manget was the one of the youngest to receive the Medal of Bravery at an awards ceremony in Ottawa last week – nearly two and a half years after he saved his mom and little brother from drowning.
Bestowed upon him by Governor General David Johnson at Rideau Hall on Friday, 17-year-old Kick said he was both “humbled and honoured” to have been awarded one of 46 Medals of Bravery given out this year in recognition of “acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.”
“A lot of the other recipients’ stories were really fantastic and amazing...so it was a proud, and humbling experience,” the Upper Canada College student said of his award. “I was kind of in shock, like, ‘Wow I’m being compared to these people who have done all these amazing things?’ I didn’t really think I was worthy of receiving the medal after hearing all those stories.”
Kick’s mom Susan Watts thinks otherwise.
Back on Sept. 1, 2010, she, Kick and the rest of the family – including husband Ken, daughter Andrea, now 18, son Christian, now 10, and daughter Victoria, now 7 – were vacationing at a rented beach house in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and the whole family was in the ocean, enjoying an afternoon swim. Watts and Christian were holding hands, playing out in the surf, while Kick and one of his buddies swam nearby.
“What we didn’t realize was Hurricane Earl was actually starting way, way, way out in the ocean...and because it was passing way out at sea, the riptides and the undercurrents were extremely strong,” she recalled.
“At some point I realized I couldn’t touch bottom, and the waves were quite large. Christian and I were getting all of a sudden sucked under, then we would come up, and then get sucked under again. At first it was sort of fun, and then I thought ‘okay, now we should get back to where I can at least stand’ – only I found I couldn’t do that.”
Grasping firmly to her youngest son’s hand, Watt said she hadn’t the strength to pull them both out of the “vortex” they found themselves in – so she began screaming for help whenever the tides allowed her to surface.
After failing to gain the attention of her husband on shore, Watt turned to Kick, who was swimming nearby with a friend. But the sound of the wind and waves drowned out her pleas for help.
“At that point, I started getting really alarmed. We would just come up long enough for me to scream at him, but then we would be pulled under again...at that point I was really thinking ‘okay, I’m not sure if this is going to turn out well,’” she said.
After one last scream, the pair made eye contact – and Kick quickly put his bronze level swim and rescue training into action.
“There was a lot of chaos and confusion at the start. I heard my mom screaming and I looked over and I saw high waves and my mom and brother gasping for breath,” he said, noting that he told his friend that he was going after them, then swam out to help. “The adrenalin really caught up to me and I just rushed into it. Any feelings of anxiety or panic were subdued.”
Fighting the swells, Kick made it over to where his mom and little brother were struggling to stay afloat, grabbed his brother and threw him with all of his might out of the undertow and to calmer waters, then went back for his mom, who he dragged to safety.
It wasn’t until all three were safely ashore that the realization of the seriousness of the situation kicked in for any of them.
“Back on the beach everybody was making a big deal of it, but I was just really recovering. The instincts and the adrenalin kicked in and blocked out all my thoughts until I really had time to let it sink in,” Kick said. “Then I realized, ‘Wow, the ocean’s kind of dangerous.’”
Added Watt: “I think it was at dinner that night that we all kind of sat there and thought ‘Oh my God! That really was close.’ Then we heard two other people drowned within two days of our close call along that same stretch of beach,” she said. “The next day my husband and I were on the beach, and he said to me: ‘You know, I’m thoroughly convinced that if it wasn’t for Kick, I wouldn’t have you or Christian.’”
Once back in Canada, Ken Manget nominated his son for the Medal of Bravery, convinced his heroics deemed him worthy – and after a nearly two-year RCMP investigation, the federal government agreed.
Last Friday, Kick was honoured alongside 45 other recipients – many of them police, firefighters, coast guard and other professional emergency services personnel.
“It was wonderful,” Watt said of the ceremony. “There was a lot of pomp and circumstance and a lot of people in uniforms, and it was really, really well run. It was just great. We are beyond proud of Kick.”