SPRING HILL — Micah Robinson lay on the forest floor Saturday morning, his hands and tongue riddled with cactus spines.
About 20 minutes earlier, the 16-year-old Air Force JROTC cadet from Tallahassee left the start line of a high school orienteering competition in the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee Forest, east of Brooksville. Competitors are timed as they use a map and compass to find checkpoints.
As Robinson studied his map, he tripped and fell face first into a prickly pear cactus. His hands and face grew numb. He managed to blow his safety whistle a few times before the size of his tongue made that impossible.
"I was really panicking," Robinson recalled Tuesday. "I was thinking, 'I'll have to get myself out of this situation.' "
He would get help from Josh Reyes, a 16-year-old cadet chief master sergeant at Springstead High School's Air Force JROTC. Reyes was on his way to the fourth checkpoint when he realized he had lost his cell phone. He turned around, got off course, and came upon Robinson.
Reyes helped the dazed boy up, gave him water and pulled some spines out of his hands. They checked a map and started the mile and a half trek to the finish line. Robinson's breathing grew labored, and Reyes helped remove some of the spines from his face.
"I was scared for him," Reyes recalled. "His tongue was swelling more every minute."
Emergency workers gave Robinson medication to control the allergic reaction. Staffers at Brooksville Regional Hospital later said he suffered anaphylactic shock and could have died if his tongue had blocked his airway. Reyes' help with removing spines made a critical difference.
"He was really a lifesaver," Robinson said.
Reyes, his mother Margaret and stepfather Tony Adamo waited at the hospital while Robinson's parents and two younger brothers traveled from Tallahassee.
Erica Ellis, Robinson's mother, said Reyes is a hero guided by divine intervention.
"I adamantly believe God put Josh there for that reason, to help Micah," she said.
The boys exchanged emails and phone numbers. Micah shook his rescuer's hand, thanked Reyes one more time, then gave him a hug.
A ninth-grader known as Freshie by his fellow cadets at Tallahassee's Godby High School, Robinson was in a hospital again Monday suffering from a severe headache and chest pain. Muscles around his heart had been strained during the ordeal, and his doctors told him to take it easy for a few weeks. He was back in school Tuesday, feeling good enough to practice with the JROTC rifle team.
Reyes has been nominated for the Air Force JROTC Silver Valor Award, given for voluntary acts of heroism. He says he simply followed the Air Force's core values: Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do.
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"We try to instill those values, and to see him express them at the drop of a dime is remarkable," said Cadet Lt. Col. Mark Cotilletta, a Springstead senior who serves as operations support squadron commander. "He did this corps and AFJROTC proud."
Two years ago, Reyes sported hair past his shoulders and loved to crank his electric guitar. After watching his older brother Bobby dedicate himself to the JROTC at Springstead, Reyes cut his brown locks and joined at the end of his freshman year. "I saw the impact on him and wanted the same influence," he said.
He is now one of the highest ranking sophomores in the unit and has earned awards for superior performance and leadership. He hopes to land a spot at the Air Force Academy to become a pilot, sniper or pararescueman.
Robinson wants to be a pilot, too. Both teens said they plan to keep in touch.
If Reyes receives the Silver Valor Award, Robinson said he will be at the ceremony.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.