The truck tire was big enough for 13-year-old Hunter Kackley to climb inside, and small enough for his friend and 10-year-old brother Camden to push it down a hill near the Stall High athletic complex. Across a road at the bottom of the hill was a retention pond.
Athletic trainer Anna Dean was pulling into the parking lot for a March 18 home baseball game when she spotted the brothers on the football practice field, horsing around in the tire used by student athletes for strength conditioning. It was too late to stop them. Dusk was settling over the scene, and no other adults seemed to be watching.
“You see it and you’re like, ‘This doesn’t look like it’s gonna end well,’ ” Dean said.
The Charleston County School District recently gave a Behind the Scenes Hero Award to Dean, who works with Stall sports teams as an employee of Roper St. Francis Healthcare. Speaking at a June 27 school board meeting, Stall Principal Kim Wilson said the right person was on the scene at the right time: “It would have been very different if she would have not been there.”
By the time the boy had reached the bottom of the hill, Dean had shifted her car into park and jumped out. The boys were kicking at the tire, trying to knock it over before it entered the pond, but to no avail.
Witnesses say Dean never hesitated. She had reached a dead sprint by the time the tire hit the water.
Dean couldn’t say for certain how long Hunter stayed under the murky water, trapped in the tire as he struggled for a foothold in the slimy muck at the bottom of the pond. Thirty seconds? A minute? Precious seconds were slipping by, and the boy was stuck in the tire holding his breath. Dean jumped in fully clothed.
Dean pulled the boy out of the tire and hauled him back to shore, where he coughed water out of his lungs but did not need resuscitation. Stall Athletic Director Bobby Smith, who was nearby taking tickets for the game, said he heard the boy saying, “I almost died. You saved my life. You saved my life.”
The brothers had come to the game with their family to support their older brother from Hanahan High, the visiting team. Their mother, Kathy Kackley, was in the stands watching the game. “It is a blessing that she pulled around then. The timing was perfect,” Kackley said.
Smith was floored by Dean’s decisive action. He snapped a grainy photo of Dean standing sopping wet in the cool night air, both thumbs up, grinning. Smith tweeted the photo with a simple caption: “Stall athletic trainer Anna Dean saves a visiting fan from drowning.”
The tweet went more or less unremarked for months, just four retweets and five likes. The rescue never made the news. It was just as well to Dean, who said she doesn’t like the limelight. The night of the rescue, she dug some ill-matching dry clothes out of a desk drawer in her office, got dressed and went back to work. Smith said it was a good thing Dean stuck around, as an umpire took a foul ball to the face later in the evening and needed treatment for minor injuries.
On a normal day, Dean works to rehabilitate young athletes with torn ACLs or refers them to physicians for broken bones. She darts from game to game on busy spring game nights. On March 18, she was coming from a soccer match across town, which had taken priority due to the higher risk for injury.
When the school board recognized Dean for her act of bravery, she stood near the front of the board room in the same posture as the high school track stars who had preceded her: hands in pockets, swaying slightly, grinning uncomfortably.
“This is not something that you’re going to see in any job description for an athletic trainer, and it’s kind of a freak thing,” Dean said. “But I have no doubt any of my other coworkers or any other athletic trainer across the country would have done the same thing.”
Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.