Kathy Haycraft's 6-year-old sister, Elizabeth, was drowning at the Towson YMCA pool, and their mother was too far away to do anything but scream for help.
Keeping her composure, the spirited 10-year-old threw her sister a barbell floating device, floated to the deep end of the pool where her sister had drifted and managed to pull her safely to the side.
The rescue occurred on Sept. 12, 1990, during Kathy's first swimming lesson.
Her act of heroism was recognized last night by the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., who gave her their Lifesaving Award.
The award, which Girl Scout officials said had not been given to a scout in Maryland for at least five years, came as a surprise to the Parkville youth, who is a member of Girl Scout Junior Troop 627.
"Well, I didn't know this was going to happen," she said matter-of-factly in front of about 100 Girl Scouts, a television camera and several photographers at a Girl Scout meeting in Parkville.
Her mother, Gail, said Kathy's reaction after saving her sister also was low-key. " 'What's the big deal?' " she recalled her daughter as saying.
"I saw her drowning, so I did it," Kathy, a fourth-grader at Villa Cresta Elementary School, said last night.
The rescue was a very big deal to Kathy's family and the leadership of the Girl Scouts.
"She understood very clearly what it was to do right. She did it bravely, and she did it at risk to herself," said Sherry Welch, executive director of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, who presented the award.
Kathy and her mother recalled that the lifeguard on duty that day was busy talking to parents about swimming classes. It was Elizabeth's second swimming lesson, and she was in the pool with other children.
All of the children were wearing barbells, which kept them afloat.
Mrs. Haycraft, who uses a cane to walk, was on the side of the pool watching her daughters when she noticed Elizabeth seemed to be in trouble.
"Liz was going up and down -- bobbing. She had gotten too far away from the rope," said Mrs. Haycraft, who attended the award ceremony with her husband, Bill. When she saw Elizabeth's barbell floating in the water, she began screaming.
"Look at your sister," Kathy remembered her mother shouting. "I saw my sister drowning," she recalled. Kathy came to her sister's rescue by throwing her a barbell and helping her to the side of the pool.
"It was definitely scary," she said. Elizabeth emerged from the pool shaken but otherwise fine.
At the awards ceremony, Elizabeth, a first-grader at Oakleigh Elementary School, declined comment.
Meanwhile Kathy's friends hugged her, patted her on the back and gave her the thumbs-up sign.
"My mom and dad were so proud of me," she said.