The making of a hero
Blenheim teenager Angus Pauley talks to Germari Herselman as he looks back on the river rescue that catapulted him into the national headlines last week.
The Taylor River is usually a gentle stream flowing through Blenheim. A place where children play in the water in summer, and families walk their dogs.
But the image stuck in the mind of Angus Pauley will forever be quite different after seeing 12-year-old Tenishya McIsaac being swept away in the flooded creek last week.
"I just reacted. I still spend time trying to put everything into place - it's a bit blurry sometimes," he said.
Spotting Tenishya trying to cross a flooded footbridge with her bicycle, he leapt into action, getting his mum to pull the car over and running downstream after the girl.
He stripped down to his underwear and socks before jumping into the cold and muddy torrent.
"I don't know why I decided to keep my socks on, but they ended up being the only piece of clothing I lost that day after taking them off in one of the cars later," he said.
As he followed Tenishya downstream he tried to devise a plan for her rescue, hesitant to jump into the swift river. There was no cowardice in his thinking - any number of hidden obstacles or large pieces of debris could have cost him his own life.
Luckily help was soon at hand as Marlborough multisport champion Jeremy McKenzie arrived, sprinting towards him yelling that it was okay for him to jump in.
Working as a team, the two quickly put a plan into action. Angus jumped in and got hold of Tenishya while Jeremy sprinted down the bank and into the river to catch the two of them. For a moment the plan seemed to go wrong as the strong current swept them off their feet, but working together they brought the terrified girl to safety. A happy ending to what would almost certainly have been a fatal accident.
Just days after the dramatic river rescue, and winning the hearts of a nation, Angus is getting on with life as normal - helping his mum hang out the washing before heading to football practice.
Sitting on the porch of his family home in Springlands in his Arsenal shirt, tracksuit pants and socks, the 17-year-old head boy says knowing he helped save someone's life still feels surreal and, at times, too much to take in.
He feels part of the praise should go to his parents, his siblings, to Marlborough Boys' College and the community as they have all played a part in making him who he is today.
"It's easy to get a feeling of achievement after something like this, but really none of it would have been done if it wasn't for everyone in my life and everyone else who helped on the day."
As the youngest sibling with a seven and nine-year gap between him and his sister and brother, he in a way had four parents.
"I grew up used to older company - adults and children were much the same for me. I never really thought about it, age is not something I see, I just see people," Angus said.
Angus, like his father and brother, is a keen sportsman and plays both football and cricket.
He believes team sports and their disciplines have helped shape his life.
"I met my best friend at soccer practice, it was my gateway whenever we moved to meet people and become a part of the community," he said.
When asked how his siblings feel about their little brother's sudden "hero" status, he smiled shyly.
"They are very proud of me, it means a lot - I really look up to them," he said.
His sister, a new entrant class teacher at Eastern Hutt School in Lower Hutt earlier this year showed her class a picture of Angus dressed up as comic book superhero Flash at the Marlborough Boys' College athletics day. The pupils were very excited that he was dressed like a superhero.
Last week, she showed them the story of him saving Tenishya and to her surprise the whole class yelled out, "Woah ma'am, he really is a super hero".
"It was really sweet that they all made that connection and funny that I'm now a real life superhero to them," Angus said.
His mother Helen Pauley believes a community helps to raise a child and a strong family bond is very important. The family moved around a lot and before coming to Blenheim, Angus had lived in seven different places, including three years in New York.
"We moved a lot, but always knew the five of us would be together and be the same no matter where we went," she said.
Helen tried to raised her children to be confident, but with boundaries.
"Rules make children feel safe and prepares them for life," she said.
His dad Gary Pauley said he was surprised, and at the same time happy, to see so much positivity coming from the rescue.
He thinks his son is a good problem-solver and listens and evaluates a situation before reacting most of the time. This was certainly the case as he chased Tenishya down the river, having the presence of mind to count each time she disappeared under the water and stripping off before going in himself.
"I am very proud of him for keeping his cool, maybe watching Bear Grylls and other survival programmes were in his subconscious that morning," Gary said.
When asked if he had any advice for other teenagers, Angus didn't hesitate.
"If anyone in the entire world has the chance to do an Outward Bound course or something similar - take it. It prepares you for life in so many ways," he said.
A real 'Johnny on the spot'
Marlborough multisport champion Jeremy McKenzie had nothing but praise for his young counterpart Angus Pauley after the river rescue last Wednesday.
He applauded the 17-year-old for keeping his head in such a high pressure situation, which most adults would struggle with.
"He didn't just jump in, he knew he needed help and he was ready to leap to her rescue the second he knew it was there," McKenzie said.
He was impressed that Angus kept a track of Tenishya while he ran down the river.
"I dived into the water ahead of them with the hope to grab the two of them and together reach the river bank. The first time we tried I grabbed hold of a flax bush and it gave way and everything almost went pear-shaped, but Angus didn't give up and continued kicking and together we reached the bank the second time," McKenzie said.
He was surprised, getting to know Angus since the rescue, how many similarities there were between them. They were both head boy at Marlborough Boys' College and were both into sports.
"It's a hard case, I know he'll do very well in the future. He is a good-natured and smart young man and surprisingly calm and collected, a real ‘Johnny on the spot'," Jeremy said.
He believed sometimes "the man upstairs puts you in a place where you can help out, and it's life-changing".
Because of Angus, Tenishya had so much more life ahead of her. She is a strong girl and will touch many lives herself, McKenzie said.
The Marlborough Express