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Saving girl’s life gives Australian teenage real sense of perspective

24 Feb 2017
Sapporo, Japan, February 24, 2017: The daredevil nature of professional skiing demands that its best athletes possess some courage as well as skill. A dose of insanity can be helpful too, but bravery is an obligatory trait for anyone who makes their living racing down steep, icy mountains. Even the most successful and experienced skiers sometimes get scared when they stand at the top of the hill, wondering how they can navigate their way to the bottom as quickly and safely as possible.

But it’s the often rookies that feel it the most, the self-assuredness that got them to that point instinctively giving way to fleeting moments of self-doubt about whether they really belong at the elite level. The Australian teenager Cooper Woods-Topalovic was no different when he arrived at the starting gate to compete in the moguls event at the Asian Winter Games on Friday.

Appearing at his first big international competition against seasoned rivals in a sport where competitors race down a steep, bumpy hill and are given judged scores on their turns, jumps and speed, his heart was already racing before he was but he managed to compose himself to and finish 11th.

At just 16, his best years are ahead of him, and he has ambitions to win an Olympic medal. His parents both represented Australia in skiing and he has already been identified as one of the country’s most promising talents. While he may have felt some anxiety before his first big race, his courage though has never questioned and despite his tender years, he has faced far more serious tests before.

When he was just 12-years-old, his quick thinking saved a friend’s life and he was awarded one of Australia’s highest awards for bravery, providing him with a constant sense of perspective whenever he’s skiing. What was meant to be a fun day swimming with friends at a waterfall near his home town of Merimbula, almost ended in tragedy when one of them slipped and fell,  slamming into a rock platform 10 metres below, then tumbling unconscious into the water.

The girl did not resurface and with no-one else close enough to save her from drowning, Woods-Topalovic spontaneously leapt off the ledge and swam to her rescue, pulling her above the water and dragging her to the shore even though she was older and bigger than him.

“I was only 12 but because I’d been brought up doing surf lifesaving, I knew what to do so I didn’t hesitate. I jumped straight in and did what I had learnt in practice,” he said. “She woke up as I brought her back to shore but she was freaking out couldn’t see things. “She had two broken ribs, a broken thumb, a broken wrist, a punctured lung, she was all cut and grazed and also had concussion. It was pretty scary.”

He called for help and some tourists who were nearby heard his screams. The girl, a close family friend, was airlifted by helicopter and survived. Woods-Topalovic was later awarded the  Pride of Australia Medal for  Child of Courage. “It was very scary but I wasn’t really thinking about anything at the time it happened but afterwards it came to me,” he said.

“Actually one of the scariest things was getting the award. I was all dressed up in a tuxedo and it was live on TV. “I was just a little kid and I didn’t really know what to say. I was so shocked and nervous but I’m just glad she’s still with us because she’s a really close family friend.”
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