It was a dark, cold night on February 16, 2016. Two friends were standing outside of their home in Coventry Township smoking when they heard a strange noise coming from the Iron Channel on the Portage Lakes.
Cody Alstadt and Christian Thacker thought nothing of it at first and continued into the house to play cards. Things changed, however, when they heard a cry for help. Alstadt remembers a neighbor calling out in the dark, "There’s someone in the water."
The two men rushed down their snowy backyard toward the channel to offer help. The frigid air was no more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and wind gusts reached 20 miles per hour that night, making the air seem even colder.
Alstadt and Thacker were recognized at the Annual Acts of Courage Event during a ceremony March 2 for saving a man drowning in the channel.
Twelve individuals from Summit, Portage and Medina counties were awarded for their bravery and heroism. The ceremony, held at the Hilton, located 3180 W Market St. in Fairlawn, also marked the 21st Annual Acts of Courage Event.
"Our mission is to prevent and alleviate suffering in the face of emergency, so when this event started it was really to highlight those things that everyday people are doing out in our community," said Mary Williams, the regional communications officer for the American Red Cross’s Northeast Ohio region. "It’s exactly in line with our mission."
When Alstadt and Thacker got down to the channel, they saw a man thrashing around in the dark water near South Turkeyfoot Road and Potage Lakes Drive. The man, Nathan Beam, 24, had broken through the ice on the channel and plunged into the freezing water.
The two men used a rope from a nearby dock to pull the man up high enough for them to grab ahold of his hands.
"My first reaction — I basically made a lasso out of the rope and tried to wrap it around the kid, but he was flapping around," Alstadt said. "He was in shock."
Alstadt said the channel wall was six feet deep before hitting water level. Because of the low water level, Alstadt and Thacker could not pull the man up onto the ground. Alstadt climbed down the ladder to help hold the man up while Thacker lay on the frozen ground on his stomach, reaching down as far as possible.
"This was a particularly daring rescue because Cody actually ended up climbing down halfway into the water himself because they were unable to get a grip on this guy," Williams said.
The two men continued to support the man until emergency help was able to arrive on scene. Deputy Tim Kesinger of the Summit County Sheriff’s Department was the first to arrive and called emergency assistance. Another neighbor joined Kesinger, Thacker and Alstadt, and together the four were able to pull the man out of the icy waters.
"It felt like forever until the other neighbor showed up," Alstadt said. "It was like 15 degrees that night. We were really trying to pull him out, but — soaking wet, middle of winter, freezing out — it was kind of difficult to pull (him) out of the water."
Beam was unresponsive when Kensinger arrived on scene. After he was pulled out of the channel, he was then taken up to the house and wrapped in blankets until emergency services arrived. Beam was taken to the hospital where he was treated for hypothermia.
Alstadt and Thacker received a plaque recognizing their heroic actions. The two were nominated after the story of their rescue was featured on multiple media outlets.
Williams said Alstadt and Thacker had "an amazing story" and commented on the difficulty of the rescue of drowning Beam because of the circumstance and extreme weather temperatures.
Though Alstadt said it was nice to be recognized, he was only doing what he thought was the right thing to do in that moment. He saw he could help save Beam’s life, and he went for it without a second thought.
"I really didn’t care about an award or anything it was mainly that fellow was safe," Alstadt said. "Don’t get me wrong I did appreciate it. I just did what was right. It’s not like I was trying to be a hero or anything like that."