It was a cool, grey overcast Saturday morning that Labour Day weekend in 2010 on the shores of Lake Revelstoke.
The last thing Spallumcheen’s Leslie Rakow was thinking about was a swim in the frigid waters of the glacier-fed reservoir near Mica Dam, where Rakow was camping with her husband, Frank, and family friend Andy Hanson of Enderby.
There were a number of people in the Rakow’s camping party that weekend, including a man – a mutual friend of friends – who was invited for the weekend. The man, from Salmon Arm at the time, brought his two children, a daughter, six, and a son, three, for the camp-out.
Before lunch on that cool, overcast Saturday, the man and another individual, along with the two kids, took the man’s van and boat, which was on a trailer, to the boat launch.
The man took the boat out for a spin to make sure everything was working.
The other individual pulled the van ahead and the trailer out of the water and left it on the boat launch ramp.
The two kids stayed on the shore, though at some point the three-year-old boy went back into the van in the driver’s seat. His sister stayed out of the vehicle.
The boy somehow got the van into neutral, and the vehicle and trailer rolled back down the ramp and launch and into the frigid waters of Lake Revelstoke.
It was then that Rakow heard cries for help.
“I ran to the site and I could see the top of the van in the water and the little boy’s face in the window,” said Rakow, who gave no hesitation to running into the cold water and swimming 150 feet to the boy in the van.
“I know the water was over my head but I didn’t realize that until I got the van door open and the three-year-old was in my arms. I was holding onto the side of the van and when I went to feel around below me, I couldn’t touch anything.”
Rakow gave the boy to people who also came to help, then quickly got out of the water, bundled up and headed toward the warmth of a campfire.
She said the back doors of the van were open and water was filling the van quickly. She was able to yank a door open and rescue the toddler.
For her action, Rakow, on Thursday, was in Ottawa at Rideau Hall to accept a Medal of Bravery from David Johnston, Canada’s governor general.
Rakow, a mother and grandmother, was accompanied by her husband to the nation’s capital. The Rakows own and operate Easy Feed Fertilizer.
“It is a very humbling experience to be amongst several people and hear their stories and what they went through,” said Rakow from Ottawa, hours after receiving her Medal of Bravery.
“It’s absolutely humbling.”
Johnston presented 39 Medals of Bravery and three Stars of Courage to recipients from across Canada at Thursday’s ceremony.
The Decorations For Bravery were created in 1972 to recognize people who risked their lives to try to save or protect the lives of others.