BHSU students honored for saving classmate

BHSU students honored for saving classmate

SPEARFISH-- Two Black Hills State University students were recognized Dec. 2 for saving the life of a friend, Alex Wooden, who was seriously injured while hiking in Spearfish Canyon in September.

Preston Knobloch, applied health sciences major from Sioux Falls, and Alexis Venables, art major from Sartell, Minn., were recently honored by the university with a Lifesaving Award.

Two weeks after meeting and moving into their residence hall at BHSU, Knobloch and Alex Wooden set off to hike Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon, a trail known for multiple creek crossings and natural waterslides. Venables joined the roommates for the adventure.

While climbing the rock walls at Devil’s Bathtub, Wooden slipped and fell 45 feet to the rocks below, sustaining numerous injuries.

Knobloch and Venables responded immediately and provided emergency, life-saving assistance. Knobloch remained with Wooden while Venables ran back to the highway, flagged down a motorist and instructed him to call 911 as soon as he had a cell signal.

Venables returned to the accident scene and waited with Wooden and Knobloch for two hours for rescuers to arrive.

Rescue personnel took Wooden from the trail to a waiting ambulance. He was first treated at Spearfish Regional Hospital, then transported to Rapid City Regional where he underwent seven hours of surgery.

Wooden sustained significant facial, knee and hip injuries, compound fractures of both wrists, and a severed thoracic artery.

His recovery includes physical therapy three times a week, and he faces more surgery on his left arm to remove a plate.

John Ginther, associate director of residence life at BHSU, said the BHSU community is grateful to Knobloch and Venables for their quick thinking and care for their fellow student.

“The Black Hills are known for their beauty and the people who inhabit them. We take care of one another, and the students at BHSU are no exception,” Ginther said.

“Preston and Alexis embody everything that BHSU stands for and hopes to instill in its students -- critical thinking skills, the ability to take decisive action, determination, innovation and problem solving, and a need to help others," he said. 

Phil Pesheck, director of public safety at BHSU, presented Knobloch and Venables with the award. Emergency responders and personnel who assisted in the event also were present during the awards presentation, which took place during halftime at the men’s basketball game.

“By their immediate actions, under difficult and extraordinary circumstances, these BHSU students demonstrated exceptional courage, presence of mind and swift action. Their team work and selfless actions are to be commended,” Pesheck said.

Wooden is currently living in Cody, Wyo., while he recovers, he but traveled back to Spearfish for the Dec. 2 award presentation. He hopes to resume studying psychology at BHSU this fall.

“I want to say thank you to Preston and Alexis. They truly deserve this award and I’m glad they’re receiving this recognition,” he said. “They saved my life.”

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