FORTVILLE — It’s in Aaron Rush’s nature to be helpful.
After all, the Mt. Vernon sophomore cross country runner is a Boy Scout. And in June, Aaron was working toward the highest honor a Boy Scout can achieve — Eagle Scout.
Within the past few years, Aaron’s troop began participating in High Adventure trips, expeditions intended to foster character and leadership among Scouts.
This year’s excursion was based in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Aaron and members of the McCordsville-based Troop 335 went sailing on Chesapeake Bay.
One day, while waiting for his troop’s boat — the 72-foot, 45-ton ‘Jeanie B’ — to dock so that it could be refueled, Aaron sensed trouble.
The Jeanie B was coming in too fast, and a collision with the dock was imminent.
One of the 21 merit badges needed to achieve Eagle Rank is ‘Emergency Preparedness.’ Aaron, who was standing on the dock, did the only thing he could think of with a crisis forthcoming: extend his arms and attempt to soften the impact.
But when Aaron pushed, the Jeanie B pushed back with all 45 tons of its might — sending Aaron into a mooring pole. The Jeanie B mashed his right arm up against the pole like a car compactor compressing a sedan.
“It crushed me,” he said.
“Aaron’s a thoroughbred. He just didn’t know it right away.”
You can almost see Eric Rush grinning through the phone.
As a teenager at Bloomington South High School, Aaron’s father qualified for the state cross country finals all four years and was a state champion in track. As a senior, Eric won the 3,200-meter run at the 1984 state finals.
At Indiana State University, Eric was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference selection in cross country — one of just six Sycamores to accomplish that feat. Eric met his wife and Aaron’s mother, D’Lee, at ISU. She was an All-MVC runner as well.
At a cross country race during his Bloomington South days, Eric’s performance against future NCAA All-American and 5,000-meter Olympic qualifier Scott Williams provided Mt. Vernon cross country coach Bruce Kendall with the blueprint to take down Williams, who is now an Indiana Track and Cross Country Hall of Famer.
“Williams never got beat,” Kendall said. “He was built like a Greek god and just would run everyone into the ground. Eric ran side by side and just fought him for 2,000 meters, and finally broke Williams down with sheer willpower.”
Kendall pulled aside Jeff Wheeler, his own talented runner, and informed Wheeler that in order to beat Williams, he’d have race the same way as Eric — with strength of mind and an unbreakable desire.
Wheeler did just that to win the 1983 Indiana individual cross country state championship.
“Lo and behold, Wheeler beat Williams at semistate and state in a very hard-fought 2K, and we owed that to Eric,” Kendall said. “Ten years ago, when I heard that Eric lived in the district, I thought, ‘Wow, would that be neat to coach his son some day.’”
Brad Goad estimates he was five to six feet away when he saw Rush’s arm being wedged between the Jeanie B and a mooring pole.
Goad, the troop’s Scoutmaster, and another parent on the trip, Grant Adams, sprung into action. The two men shouted at the boat’s captain to move the Jeanie B away from the dock as they tried to create separation between the boat and Rush’s now-distorted arm.
“Me and the other adult leader tried to push off at the same time his wrist was being twisted,” Goad said. “We saw what the damage was, and knew that it wasn’t a good thing.”
Aaron said he couldn’t feel anything — and that was the worst part.
“I’m surprised there wasn’t any bone protruding out of the skin,” he said. “You could just see this big clump of bones.”
Luckily for Aaron, there were Coast Guard members on a nearby dock. They helped stabilize his arm before an ambulance arrived. The ambulance took Aaron to a nearby hospital, but the facility had limited capabilities.
Aaron, with Goad by his side, traveled to a hospital in Norfolk, Va., and saw an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed Aaron with a fracture of his radius and ulna — the two bones in his forearm.
It’s the phone call every parent dreads. The unexpected, out of nowhere call that makes your stomach turn.
Goad, whose son, Tyler, is in Troop 335 and runs cross country at Mt. Vernon, has known Aaron since he was three. He was tasked with breaking the bad news to Eric and D’Lee.
“It was a tough call,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, this has happened. We’ll take care of it.’”
Goad, an airline pilot, began figuring out the logistics of the situation and with an assist from Eric, managed to secure a flight for Aaron to go to Indianapolis the next morning.
The Scoutmaster never thought of leaving his pupil’s side.
“Knowing his family so well for so many years, I couldn’t take the chance of having someone else not being able to take care of the financial aspect of it or anything else,” Goad said. “It just all worked out.”
The protective parent in Eric wanted to jump in the car and drive over 700 miles due east. But Goad assured Eric that his son was in good hands.
“I could not have asked for a better person to be there than Brad Goad,” Eric said. “He’s an angel. It was a godsend he was there. He is one of a kind, a true leader in every sense of the word.”
Aaron was every bit as appreciative as his father.
“I don’t know how I didn’t lose my arm or my hand,” he said.
When Aaron Rush stepped off the plane, he was shaking with pain. He hadn’t taken enough pain medication to get him through a layover before flying back to Indy.
The broken bones in Rush’s arm had to grow back without incident, so he was fitted with a sugar tong splint — a device specifically designed to stabilize forearm and wrist injuries. After two weeks, Rush traded in the sugar tong splint for a cast, which he wore for a month and a half.
For most of the time he was wearing a split and cast, Rush — an eighth-place finisher at the 2012 Hancock County Cross Country Meet who went on to tally top-20 finishes at the Hoosier Heritage Conference, Pendleton Heights Sectional and Delta Regional meets — was not permitted to run.
“Initially, it definitely took a toll on him mentally until he could back into running. I think it just took time. For him, maybe learning the level of patience to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get back,’” Goad said. “And I know that he felt — and his dad felt from being an elite runner — that it was going to take a little bit of time.”
Aaron was cleared to run at the end of July, about three weeks before the Marauders’ first meet of the season. He still had the cast on, which prevented him from doing core exercises such as bear crawls and push-ups.
He struggled in Mt. Vernon’s first competition, a meet with Brownsburg and Fishers.
“All the practices leading up to that, I was sucking wind most of the time,” he said.
Things changed at the Arabian Roundup at Pendleton Heights on Aug. 28. Rush finished third, stunning himself with his performance.
“I was not expecting to be first on the team or third in the race, but it just happened to be that way,” he said. “I usually suck on that course in Pendleton. The sun beats down on you the whole time, and it’s hilly.
“That’s when I thought I could get over this hump I got myself stuck in. It really built up my confidence because I thought I was going to have a horrible year.”
Goad, for one, wasn’t surprised.
“Once he got in the first couple races, I think he quickly realized that the injury wouldn’t prevent him from doing what he wants to do this year.”
When Aaron stands up and extends both arms, his right arm is noticeably shorter than his left. He has no feeling on the palm side of his right hand.
That’s to be expected halfway through the recovery process. Aaron estimates it will be another three months before he has full function of his right arm.
He’s slated to see a neurologist when the season is over to check for scar tissue. If any scar tissue is blocking the nerves, minor surgery may be required to clear it out.
Eric joked that unless you’re greeting Aaron or celebrating with him, you’d never know about his injury.
“He’s a little tentative with high-fives. That’s the only thing you really catch him on,” Eric said with a laugh. “Other than that he’s slowly getting those things back.”
Despite minimal offseason training, Rush finished eighth at the Manchester and Blackford Invitationals. He teamed with Brendan O’Bryhim to place fourth in the Noblesville Hokem Karem.
Less than four months after nearly losing his arm, Aaron finished fifth at Tuesday’s county meet. His time of 16 minutes, 52.47 seconds was over 10 seconds better than his time in his final race of 2012, the New Haven Semistate.
“For him to have as good a season as he’s had thus far is amazing to watch,” Eric said. “I think it’s proving to himself and proving to his coaches how quickly he can be back to where he should have been early in the season.
“It’s a testament to how the coaches have helped him modify his work and given his body the opportunity to heal. It’s been very fun to watch him and be as successful as he’s been — and he’s got plenty of season left.”
Rush, who was elevated to Eagle Scout on Aug. 31, has a keepsake from his accident. The captain of the Jeanie B gave Aaron his visor imprinted with the ship’s name. It’s a reminder of the ship that pushed back.
But now, the son of two talented distance runners is back to pushing himself on the course.
“He is a baby in his sport. He is his own man. But, wow, I just never thought 30 years ago it would come around this far,” Kendall said. “This boating accident stole his summer. He never got to train.
“But, I could care less. He is alive, all parts are there and he is a joy to coach. And when the fire is lit, he is his mother and father’s child. He can compete.”