PHOENIX — Two Valley teens have just been made the recipients of the prestigious Carnegie Medal, chosen along with 18 others for incredible acts of bravery.
“We’ve been friends forever, that’s just a part of always having each other's back and doing everything together,” said Zachary Haugen.
It’s a friendship that’s helped Zachary Haugen and Jake Watson create countless memories over the years. It’s also one that helped save two lives in July of 2020 off the coast of San Diego.
“My flip flops were off, and I was in the water before I even had a second to think about it,” said Zachary.
While on vacation, the two young men decided to visit Sunset Cliffs, a popular sightseeing destination to watch dusk fall along the California coastline.
“That’s when I look down and I immediately see two girls down in the water getting thrown around by the waves,” said Zachary.
Cell phone video capturing the chaotic scene shows two girls, 18 years old and 11, swept into the raging waters from a low-lying cliff surrounding the rocky cove. Both struggled to stay above water. Zachary, a trained lifeguard, was the first one in.
“I grab them, and I start swimming them towards this cliff where the water meets the rock,” said Zachary.
Suddenly a large swell rips the three of them apart, while the waves pushed Zach towards the jagged rocks.
“That’s when Jake is up on top of the cliff asking me if he should come in and I’m shaking my head yes, you know come in come in,” said Zachary.
Without hesitation, Jake was in the water too. Hoisting one girl on his back while pulling the other to a nearby shelf.
“Had the little girl on my back, I get in the corner, just able to find my footing with my foot, I step up a couple times and just try to pull myself up and dump her off my shoulder like that,” said Jake.
The gamble works. The video showing Jake roll the 11-year-old to safety as waves crash around them. With one out of the water, Jake continues to hold onto the other until lifeguards show up moments later. Finally safe on shore, both Jake and Zach were embraced by the 11-year-old girl's mother.
“It was probably one of the best hugs I’ve ever received, and she was just crying saying thank you, thank you, thank you,” said Zachary.
It’s a moment they’re now being honored for, named the recipients of the Carnegie Medal. The Carnegie Medal is North America’s highest civilian honor for heroism.
“We happen to be there at the right time, in the right place, you know, I know at least in my head, and I know in Jake's head as well, it’s just what anyone else would have done,” said Zachary.
A humble response from two people who put fear aside, risking their own life for another’s.