By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Dawson County teen lifeguard recognized for helping rescue surfer
BOC Lifeguard 08082023 1
During the BOC’s Aug. 3 meeting, teenage lifeguard Declan Rhodes was given a plaque for recently helping save a fellow surfer’s life while on vacation. Declan’s parents stand next to him as he proudly displays his award. - photo by Julia Hansen

A Dawson County High School junior was locally commended last week after recently using his lifeguard skills to help save a surfer’s life.

The Board of Commissioners awarded teenager Declan Rhodes with a wooden plaque during the board’s Aug. 3 voting session. 

Rhodes, who’s worked as a lifeguard at Dawson County’s Veterans Memorial Park pool, was able to spring into action during a July vacation at Topsail Beach, North Carolina. 

While learning how to surf, Rhodes saw that another surfer had been hit by a powerful wave and was showing signs of a medical emergency, DCN previously reported

Rhodes ran and swam over to the female surfer, Laci Pyles of Rome, Georgia, and other people at the beach helped him bring her out of the ocean and onto shore. 

He used his lifeguard training when retrieving Pyles from the water and holding her until an ambulance arrived. 

Rhodes was also able to visit Pyles the next day, giving her the chance to express her gratitude in person. 

BOC Lifeguard 08082023 3
Declan Rhodes, right, stands with surfer Laci Pyles, who he helped bring to shore at Topsail Beach, North Carolina. Photo submitted to DCN.

“It just hit me all at once…I just remember waking up on the beach with water everywhere,” Pyles told DCN in July. “I never got to thank him that day and that broke my heart. [Finally] knowing him really made me happy…I cried unconditionally.”

“My heart was pounding…but I was just glad I was able to fight through that,” Rhodes said. “I didn’t think twice about anything. God put me there for a reason.”

During the Aug. 3 meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Matt Payne smiled as he stood next to Rhodes, commending the teen “for using the training we’ve taken seriously, being a good citizen of Dawson County and helping your fellow man when they’re in need.”

BOC Lifeguard 08082023 2
Dawson County’s four commissioners congratulate Declan Rhodes for recently helping save a fellow surfer’s life. - photo by Julia Hansen

Payne told the board that prior to serving at Veterans Memorial Park, the park pool’s lifeguards are sent to a Georgia Red Cross certification class that’s “very intense” and a “very hard class to pass,” so he’s “thankful that they take that job and they take that training seriously.”

The director credited Rhodes for using his training and a “sheer will to do what’s right” to jump in the water and secure Pyles’ rescue. 

“I know he’s here saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’” Payne added, “but the fact of the matter is if Declan [didn’t] use his training and his desire to help his fellow person, this young lady [would’ve had] a very tragic ending to this situation.”