A teenager who was 14 when he single-handedly saved four adult men in a rift has been awarded one of Australia’s best prizes.
Clayton Schilge was awarded the Courage Medal this week – awarded to Australians for “acts of gallantry in dangerous circumstances, putting themselves at risk to protect the lives of others”.
On January 9, 2020, Clayton and a friend were at Wooyoung Beach in northern New South Wales, about halfway between Byron Bay and the Gold Coast, when around 2pm they noticed a group of people 50 meters offshore.
Clayton Shelig (pictured) was awarded one of Australia’s highest medals for bravery after saving four men from the ocean in 2020 at just 14 years old.
Heroic teen Clayton Shelig (with a towel) helps a 28-year-old who nearly drowns in the surf. The man later admitted he would go under “in a minute.”
The group called for help as they were ripped off and dragged away The teen immediately grabbed a broken foam surfboard that had been left on the beach and paddled to join them while his friend called Clayton’s parents.
At the time, the 14-year-old was a pincher, or apprentice youth bouncer, at Tweed Heads on the south Gold Coast.
He first reached out to two women, who confirmed that they were safe and could make it to shore on their own, then rowed to four men believed to be in their twenties.
One of the men sank repeatedly under the water and Clayton managed to pull him up onto the board – but the other three were swept away in different directions by the current.
Quick-thinking Clayton, worried he wouldn’t be able to get to everyone, swam towards him.
All three did, but one of the men frantically grabbed him and pulled him into the water. He managed to free himself and ordered two of them to hold the board and the third to hold it by his waist.
With the fourth man on top of the board, Clayton paddled ashore, dropping one of the men on a sandbar on his way inland.
Clayton and his friend Harry were at Wooyung Beach on the north coast of New South Wales
Clayton (pictured at the time of the rescue) was a snapper at Tweed Heads Coolangatta Surf Club when he saved four swimmers by grabbing an old emergency board from the beach and charging him into the surf
Clayton’s emergency surfboard has been cut from the beach
When he reached shore, other fishermen came to the rescue, with the man placed in the recovery position on top of the board and Clayton and others, including a nurse who remained in the nearby trailer park, watched over him until the paramedics arrived.
The man, vacationer Ben Jeffrey, 28, of Portarlington, Victoria, recovered and later told Clayton he was “giving up on a minute” when the teenager rescued him.
Jeffrey’s girlfriend, Christine Campbell, said at the time that Clayton was the “hero” of the day.
He put the situation under control. Save Ben’s life. Pick up four of them. I have never met a young man who took such responsibility.
“He needs a prize, he needs a medal.”
Police and paramedics assist Ben Jeffrey, 28, after the near miss
What is the Australian Medal of Courage?
A gallantry award given to Australians on behalf of the monarchy of Australia.
It is awarded for brave actions in dangerous circumstances. Recipients put themselves at risk in order to protect the life or property of others.
The award was launched in February 1975.
The Medal for Courage is bronze in color and is the third highest award for bravery that Australian civilians can receive, the other two being the Star of Courage (silver) and the Cross of Valor (gold).