Kent residents Todd and Jennifer Fisher are grateful for two things: their daughter Madelyn's life and the young man who saved it.
Madelyn was playing near the Cuyahoga River in downtown Kent Sunday when she slipped and fell into the rushing water. Moments later, on the river's west bank several hundred feet from where she fell in.
Johnston said it all happened so fast that he and the Fishers simply parted ways afterward without even exchanging names.
"I will always remember his face and his incredible kindness," Todd Fisher said of Johnston today. "I am forever deeply indebted to him and the city of Kent safety forces who responded so quickly to the incident. It has changed my life forever. We are truly grateful."
Madelyn, 9, had been playing on some flat stones in the pool area just south of the Main Street Bridge and behind the Stone Arch Dam when she fell in at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The roaring water quickly swept her through the old canal lock and downstream. Fisher said his only course of action was to dive into the rapids and try desperately to catch her.
"When I jumped in, I could barely keep my head above the water in some places," Fisher said. "The current was incredible. I was so worried that she would be pinned under some branch or rock. I kept yelling at her to swim towards the bank and not to fight the current. There was no way I was going to catch up with her."
While Fisher swam after her, Johnston was sprinting down the boardwalk from to trying to reach a shallow part of the river so he could wade out after her.
"I instinctively thought I could make it down there before her and wade out into the water and get her," Johnston said.
As he ran, Johnston's friends called 911.
"I was so relieved to see Eric and his college friends at the river's edge attempting the rescue," Fisher said. "I could have never ran up those steps and down the boardwalk in time to rescue her."
Johnston, a music education major at , plays the trombone and runs for fun. A healthy set of lungs and legs helped him reach that low point in the river near the Silk Mill Apartments where he pulled her out. The Kent Fire Department arrived moments later to find everyone safe, but soaked, on the river bank.
Kent Fire Capt. John Tosko credited Johnston with saving Madelyn's life. "She could have easily drowned," he said.
Fisher said his daughter is holding up well after the dramatic incident.
"She is one brave little girl," he said. "Madelyn told me how she did not panic and kept her cool in the water. Thank God she is such a good swimmer."
The Fishers are hopeful two things will come of Sunday's events — parents will learn from it and teach their children to swim and be safe around water, and they want to nominate Johnston for an American Red Cross Real Heroes of Summit and Portage Counties award.
"I hope other parents read (this) story and realize how important it is to keep a constant eye on your children and to teach them how to swim and be comfortable around water," Fisher said. "I really want to give this young man the recognition he so bravely earned and deserves. I know my wife and I personally want to thank him for saving Madelyn's life and show him our gratitude."