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Teen Clears Hurdles On Way To Eagle Rank
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Mitch Leichner - photo by Photos Courtesy Melodie Leichner
There is no question that for 15-year-old Mitch Leichner, achieving his Boy Scout Eagle award has been a work in progress, with a few life-changing occurrences a long the way.
In August of 2007, Leichner first discussed the idea of performing long overdue maintenance at the Oakdale Library to earn his Eagle with his unit leader. According to Mitch and his mother Melodie, the teen first met with Regional Children’s Librarian, Elizabeth Blood, to discuss varying options of the job he and his crew could do to clean up certain areas of the library.
“We asked her, whatever needs to be done, we’ll just do it,” Mitch said of their initial meeting.
Once the meeting concluded an action plan was put in place including: restaining the benches, pressure washing the building as well as the patio area, and cleaning up much of the landscaping.
In late September of 2007, Mitch, along with a crew of about 13 volunteers descended upon the library for two consecutive weekends to make the improvements needed. A total of over 60 man-hours, led by the teen, were used to make the transformation possible.
Once the physical part of the job was complete, the teen admits to dragging his feet a bit on completing the rest of the project. That basically meant putting together his project binder and completing his summaries to be submitted to the Eagle Board of Review, which took until late February of this year.
As Mitch awaited approval from the board, affirming that he had made Eagle, his teen life went on, a life that included attending driver’s training classes and preparing for taking his driving test.
Achieving Eagle at such a young age is just one of the many things, which make Mitch Leichner distinctively different from the average 15-year-old.
His six-foot-five, lean stature makes him hard to miss, as he towers over the averaged sized adult. Yet somehow on April 6, 2009 he was not only missed (visually) but hit (physically) by a vehicle in a crosswalk on F Street as he headed home from school.
Ironically, Mitch was on his way home from Oakdale High School after attending his Driving Education Class, as he prepared to work toward his driver’s license.
“The other cars were stopped,” Mitch recalled. “I just don’t think he saw me.”
Mitch’s mom, Melodie Leichner related that many who know Mitch joke that his thin stature may have made him barely visible from the side as the vehicle approached.
But on that Monday afternoon just minutes before 3 p.m., jokes were not being told. Laughter was far from West F Street, as paramedics rushed to the scene and made every effort to stabilize the teen and deliver him safely to a hospital that could address his injuries. A drain was also placed in his skull to aid with draining blood that had accumulated there, as a result of the accident.
“I remember walking into the street,” Mitch said of that day, “waking up on the ground and waking up again in the hospital.”
Memorial Hospital in Modesto offered the closest Trauma Unit where Mitch was stabilized and then moved to Doctors Hospital.
The impact of the vehicle versus pedestrian accident catapulted Mitch approximately 45 feet. The injuries he sustained during the accident included a broken arm and scapula, two breaks in his pelvis and multiple abrasions on his back and elbow.
His mother recalls the first few days at the hospital as somewhat overwhelming, noting that as tests were completed his injury list grew.
As the stint released the blood from creating pressure on the 15-year-old’s brain, plans were made for a craniotomy to repair the fracture. The surgery took approximately three hours to complete.
“It was scary,” Melodie recalls of her son’s brain surgery. “They were opening my little boy’s head up and that was scary.”
Eventually Mitch was released to go home, where he spent the better part of two weeks in a reclined position recovering from the fractured pelvis. He was released to return to school full-time in the beginning of May.
“He went back with two weeks left of school and finals,” Melodie said.
“It actually was really nice,” Mitch said of his return to OHS. “The teachers were easy on me. Most of my teachers were very helpful and understanding.”
As his sophomore year concluded, his goal of earning his Eagle award remained in the balance. In early June Mitch met with the Eagle review board and passed his final hurdle.
“This was touch and go because of the severity of his accident and subsequent injuries,” Committee Chairman for Troop 47, Eron Grisham shared via e-mail.
“He has done surprisingly well, culminating in his return to school and meeting an Eagle board where he succeeded,” Grisham added. “Mitch has overcome some major trauma and is a lucky young man, even to be alive to receive such a prestigious award.”
“You can’t do it without your parents,” Mitch said of his entire scouting experience. “Some of the merit badges you have to keep a three-month track of. I’m sure any boy under 18 wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Ultimately the experience of his tragedy and Eagle have taught this teen a valuable life lesson.
“Don’t put things off,” he said. “Like I did, waiting for two years.”
Since meeting with the board in early June, the scout’s packet was submitted to the National and Greater Yosemite Council. At the end of June word was received by the BSA headquarters in Dallas confirming Mitch had earned and completed everything necessary to be presented with his Eagle award.
Mitch has received his certificate of accomplishment and Eagle advancement. A formal ceremony hosted by his family and Troop 47 will take place at a later date. Mitch is currently participating in behind the wheel training and looking forward to receiving his driver’s license.