On a steamy May day, Riley Braden, then 5, was swimming at a Destin, Florida, hotel pool with a neighbor. Nearby, a vacationing couple was enjoying the warm weather with their two girls, one around 18 months, the other an older toddler.
As Riley played in the shallow end, she watched the 18-month-old amble over to the pool steps near her. "Then, as soon as I turned away -- bloop! -- she fell in," she says. Riley, a strong swimmer, thought about shouting for help but realized she had to act fast. "There was no lifeguard, and the girl's parents were lounging by the side of the pool with their clothes on," she recalls. So she dove down about three feet and retrieved the child from the pool's bottom. "When I brought her up, I shouted, 'I've got the baby! I've got the baby!'" Riley says.
The girl's parents jumped up from their chairs and came running. The toddler had only been underwater for a few seconds and -- though coughing and crying -- was fine. After thanking Riley, the couple returned to their hotel room with their kids. She never saw them again.
How did Riley manage to stay so composed? "She'd been taking swimming lessons since she was 2, so she feels very confident in the water," says her mom, Jaime Braden, a nurse practitioner. "Plus, her father and I are former search-and-rescue divers, so the idea of saving someone from drowning is very familiar to her."
For her brave act of heroism, Riley received the Girl Scouts Lifesaving Award. In addition, she was also given an eight-inch golden key to the city in a special ceremony. It instantly became her most prized possession. "She slept with it for two days -- and she wouldn't let anybody touch it for weeks," Jaime says.
Now a first-grader, Riley already knows what she wants to be when she grows up: "A lifeguard!"
Life-Saving Tip: Teach the right way to assist a struggling swimmer. Instruct your child to first shout for help; if she's 5 or older, she can take action -- as long as it won't put her in danger. Demonstrate how to help a person in the water by staying on the pool deck and extending your reach with an object like a foam noodle or a pole.