Vincent Massey Collegiate’s varsity boys and girls both won provincial cross-country championships on Oct. 17, but the school’s top performers that day were two students who weren’t even in the race.
David Friesen and Keegan Jackson, a pair of Grade 12 students who were unable to run at Spruce Woods Provincial Park due to injury and illness, were taking photos from the side of the course when a runner from another school approached.
"He ran by, and we said ‘He doesn’t look very good,’" Jackson said. "He was foaming at the mouth, not running with his normal gait. We could tell something was wrong."
The runner, who was contending for a spot on the podium, collapsed in front of the Vincent Massey students and, semi-conscious, got up and tried to continue running. After about 10 metres, he collapsed again and stayed down.
That’s when Friesen and Jackson sprung into action. Both are trained lifeguards who are considering careers as paramedics, and Jackson’s father is a paramedic.
"At first he nodded his head and talked a little bit for five or 10 minutes," Friesen said.
But then he lost consciousness.
"He had a heart arrhythmia," said Friesen, a Fort Garry resident. "He had a lack of oxygen to the brain."
The students thought they were going to need to perform CPR on several occasions. They covered the runner with their jackets, checked his vitals and made sure he wasn’t going into shock.
"We wanted to make sure he didn’t choke," said Jackson, a Fort Richmond resident. "His pulse started to die off a couple times, so I started to get worried."
At that point, Friesen, who wasn’t running because of a torn knee ligament, decided he needed to get help. He ran as fast as he could to find someone who could call an ambulance, as cell coverage was spotty.
"People were radioing each other, but no one knew how serious it was," he said. "Eventually I found an RCMP officer who radioed it in."
As the ambulance was arriving, at least 45 minutes after the runner collapsed, Jackson said the individual was beginning to stabilize and wake up.
"That’s a scary-long time to be unconscious," he said.
The runner, who requested not to be named and declined to be interviewed, was cleared by doctors after extensive testing and is once again running and playing hockey, his mother said.
Vincent Massey coach Joanne Goodwin arrived on the scene a couple minutes after the runner collapsed.
"They were doing everything right," she said. "They know their stuff, they’re well trained. For young men around 17, he couldn’t have been in better hands."
The Vincent Massey students were congratulated at the school for their actions, and couldn’t help but think about how fortuitous their presence was.
"It was interesting to think that we were the ones there as trained responders," Friesen said. "There was a high possibility he would’ve gone into shock and cardiac arrest."
Jackson said the first-aid training enabled them to stay calm during a highly stressful episode.
"Even if I don’t end up going into a field where I need it, I like knowing that I have the training and I can use it."