Day 315: Homeless hero

Faron Hall, shown at the home of Marion Willis in Winnipeg, recounts his rescue of a young boy in the Red River on Sunday. (John Woods)

Faron Hall, shown at the home of Marion Willis in Winnipeg, recounts his rescue of a young boy in the Red River on Sunday. (Photo John Woods)

I certainly didn’t plan to break into tears on the subway this morning. Pretty embarrassing actually.

But about three sentences into the following story of Faron Hall’s daring rescue of a teenager from the frigid waters of Winnipeg’s Red River, I was a goner.

I usually spotlight everyday heroes on Sundays but, hey, if this guy isn’t a hero, I don’t know who is. And my good deeds were small ones today —  washing another’s dishes in the office kitchen, giving a tourist directions (again, can you believe it?) … but I got a smile back from my bus driver, however, success! — so I’m happy to share Mr. Hall’s story with you. Enjoy!

Faron Hall to the rescue
By Patrick White, The Globe and Mail

WINNIPEG — The morning before every politician in town wanted to shake his hand, Faron Hall woke up on a park bench spray-painted with the tag “Not super.”

He’s called this stretch of riverbank overlooking the Provencher Bridge home for the last seven years, staying away from the homeless shelters even when a 50-below chill took a portion of his ear several years ago.

“I’m a chronic alcoholic,” he says, sitting on the bench. “I don’t bother nobody and over here nobody really bothers me.”

But for a split-second decision on Sunday, Mr. Hall would have remained in this hazy seclusion. He’s the first to admit that his memory isn’t nearly as sharp as it used to be when he was taking classes at the University of Manitoba, but he recalls clearly jumping into the turbid Red River and pulling a young man to the shore – an act that has garnered him a thousand handshakes, season tickets to the Winnipeg Goldeyes courtesy of the mayor and the unanimous moniker of hero.

“I did my best,” says the 44-year-old Mr. Hall. “That’s all.”

It was around 2 p.m. when Marion Willis saw a teenager who had been running across lanes on the Provencher Bridge disappear between a gap that separates the car deck from the walkway.

“There was an absolute look of terror in this boy’s face,” she said. “He didn’t realize there was such an opening. I looked at my son then and said, ‘This won’t be a rescue; this will be a recovery.’ “ Little did she know, Mr. Hall was on the scene. He was sharing a beer with a friend, Wayne Spence, downriver from the bridge when he heard a loud splash. In a light-hearted mood after a long day of collecting cans, he remembers saying, “Damn, that must have hurt.”

But humour turned to shock when they spotted the teen screaming for help 40 metres out on the fast-moving river. Living life on the margins helped him decided what to do next. “People ignore me,” he says. “But I don’t ignore them. We look out for one another out here.”

He threw off his backpack, kicked off his old black dress shoes and jumped into the chilly water.

“When I got to the kid, he started fighting me,” says Mr. Hall, pointing to a bloody scar on his forehead where the teen socked him. “I had to smack him back, tell him, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you.’ “ He’d pulled the teen within 20 metres of shore when his adrenalin stalled and fatigue set in. “It’s too damn cold,” he remembers yelling to Mr. Spence, who was standing along the shore.

“You can’t let go, you can make it,” Mr. Spence yelled back, before wading up to his knees in the water to drag his friend and the petrified teen to the shore.

Paramedics soon arrived and took the boy and Mr. Hall to hospital. The teen has since been released.

Within a few days, strangers were coming up to congratulate Mr. Hall. “Yes, I saved that boy,” he would say. “I just did my best.”

Mr. Hall’s best hasn’t always been good enough. From a foster-home upbringing, he worked his way through courses at the University of Manitoba and eventually became a high-school teacher’s aide, only to be set back by his mother’s murder 10 years ago. He struggled with an urge to drink the grief away until his sister was murdered about seven years later.

“That’s when he really slipped,” said Nicole Morin, a close friend and teacher. “He started to believe that hard times, drinking and living on the street were his destiny.”

By helping avert tragedy, Mr. Hall may also have altered that destiny. The witness, Ms. Willis, is a former social worker and has been housing Mr. Hall since the rescue while several local groups work to put a more permanent roof over his head.

By Tuesday afternoon he was back sitting on his bench, describing the rescue, when a well-dressed man trod down the path towards him. “That’s Sam Katz,” Mr. Hall said, recognizing the Winnipeg mayor. “That was very special what you did,” said the mayor, jutting out his hand. “If you’re in the mood you can come to my place. Do you want to come?”

Sensing an opportunity, Mr. Hall hugged the mayor and said, “I just want you to promise me one thing: I wanna come to a ball game.”

“How about if I get you a pair of season tickets?” said the mayor, who also owns the local ball club.

“Honest? I love baseball.”

“You did something a lot of people would not do,” said the mayor.

“No, I did my best.”

P.S. “When You Believe” seemed like an appropriate song, a hopeful one … and with horses! Enjoy!

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