SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Two best friends from Scottsdale will be awarded medals of bravery later this year for their actions during a 4th of July vacation in 2020.
Zach Haugen, a senior at Chaparral High School, and Jake Watson, a senior at Desert Mountain High School were walking with a group of friends in San Diego at Sunset Cliffs.
Haugen spotted two girls having trouble in the water below.
“The younger girl was climbing on the head and shoulders of the older one,” Haugen remembers. “I was a lifeguard at the time and I recognized that as a sign of drowning.”
Haugen had trained to be a lifeguard, but the pandemic closed local pools. Even so, he was able to use his training to help the two swimmers.
Watson remembers Haugen immediately jumping into action.
"He got his suit on, took his shirt off, and went in,” Watson said.
Haugen reached the two girls, 11 and 18, and put his arms around the younger one while the older one followed behind. Then a wave came and separated the swimmers again. Haugen was pinned back into a cove while the two girls were closer to safety. That’s when Watson got jumped in as well.
“I put the younger one on my back and swam with her and the older one was able to follow behind, like what [Haugen] was doing,” Watson said.
He got the pair to a rock where the 11-year-old was able to get out of the water and the 18-year-old could hold on and keep her head above water until beach lifeguards arrived.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission took notice and decided to give Haugen and Watson the Carnegie Medal for heroism, the highest civilian honor for bravery given out in North America.
The two friends will receive their medals at a ceremony in Scottsdale later this year but a date and time have not yet been set for the occasion.
Both boys were happy to help and feel better knowing that when called upon they are capable of helping.
“When you have the opportunity to do something good, you should always take it,” Haugen said.
Haugen plans to attend Northern Arizona and major in Forestry next year.
Watson plans to attend community college and eventually ASU, likely continuing in the family business of contracting. However, this experience has made him consider becoming a firefighter.