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Otter Tail County siblings honored for saving drowning man

Lila Thorson, 14, and Beck Thorson, 12, were outside by the lake near their home on East Leaf Lake in Otter Tail County on Aug. 5, 2020. They would end up saving the life of a man out in his canoe.

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Lila and Beck Thorson stand at East Leaf Lake, where they saved a man from drowning. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)
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OTTER TAIL COUNTY, Minn. — One man's day canoeing on a lake could have ended in disaster if it weren't for two Deer Creek, Minn., siblings.

Lila Thorson, 14, and Beck Thorson, 12, were swimming in the lake near their home on East Leaf Lake in Otter Tail County, on Aug. 5, 2020, with their little sister when they noticed a man on a canoe about 200-250 yards from them.

"There’s not much action on the lake, so whenever we see somebody, we kind of just watch them," Beck said. "It’s a smaller lake, and there's not a lot of people."

It was a windy day, so Lila also made sure to watch the man in the canoe. Suddenly, his boat flipped, and he ended up in the water. Lila told Beck to get their life jackets from the family's boat .

The man's yells grew louder as a few minutes passed. Lila told Beck to stay with their sister, threw on her life jacket and swam further through the lake toward the yelling man.

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Beck and Lila point to where they saw the man struggling in the water of East Leaf Lake. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

"I didn’t have emotions in my head. I was just thinking about the good things that could happen and the bad things that could happen. I imagined different scenarios," Lila said. "I don’t know what I felt. I just know what I was thinking."

Once she reached the man, she yanked out his life jacket that was trapped under his canoe and helped him wrap it around his neck and keep him afloat.

It was at this point, hearing the yelling, that the Thorson's neighbor came down to the shore from their house. With the neighbor there to watch their sister, Beck hopped into a kayak and paddled to his sister and the struggling man.

"I grabbed onto the back of the kayak and held onto front of the canoe, which was still tipped over," Lila said. "I was kicking, and he was paddling."

The direction of the wind pushed all three people toward the Thorson's neighbor's dock, and, through their teamwork, they brought the man to the shore.

Then, with the help of their neighbor, they pulled the man up onto the dock. His life was saved.

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Beck and Lila took the man they saved to their neighbor's dock on East Leaf Lake, which is pictured. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Lila and Beck said they acted entirely on instinct, since neither of them had training in water rescue. "I j ust knew it would be OK because we're both strong swimmers, so I figured I would be fine," Lila said. "It all went smoothly."

Beck and Lila were both awarded the 2020 Minnesota Sheriff’s Association Life Saving Award for their actions, which were presented to the two of them at the 2021 Sheriff’s Summer Conference this summer.

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MSA 2020 President Sheriff Troy Dunn Rice County Sheriff’s Office, Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons and Life Saving Award recipients Beck Thorson and Lila Thorson at the 2021 Sheriff’s Summer Conference.

Beck said it feels interesting to be recognized for his actions. "W hen we were doing it, it didn’t seem like a big deal," he continued. "Then everyone started talking about it, and I noticed it was kind of a big deal."

They hadn't even told their mother, Brooke, what happened that day until she called them when she was driving home and they mentioned there was something they needed to tell her. At first, she assumed they had something they needed to fess up to, but then she found out they'd saved someone's life.

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Brooke said she is proud of her kids, and Lila is proud of herself.

A news release from Otter Tail County noted that Beck had the presence to grab the man’s wallet which was floating in the water and place in into the kayak, so it would not be lost.

"For two people at their young age to respond so appropriately and quickly is quite impressive and they should be proud of what they did that day," the news release said.

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