Alex Wooden

Phil Pesheck, director of BHSU Public Safety, shakes the hand of BHSU student Preston Knobloch as he presents Knobloch and Alexis Venables (left) with the BHSU Lifesaving Award. Knobloch and Venables saved the life of Alex Wooden of Cody (right of Knobloch) during a hike in Spearfish Canyon last fall. 

Two students at Black Hills State University were recently honored for saving the life of their friend from Cody last fall while hiking in Spearfish Canyon. 

Alex Wooden is recovering this semester at home thanks to the efforts of Preston Knobloch from Sioux Falls and Alexis Venables from Sartell, Minn., who received a Lifesaving Award.

Just two weeks after meeting and moving into their residence hall at BHSU, Knobloch and Wooden set off to hike Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon, a trail known for multiple creek crossings and natural waterslides. Venables, also a BHSU student, joined the roommates for the adventure.

While climbing the rock walls at Devil’s Bathtub, Wooden accidentally slipped and fell 45 feet to the rocks below, sustaining numerous injuries.

Knobloch and Venables responded immediately and provided emergency, lifesaving assistance. While Knobloch remained at the scene with his roommate, Venables ran back to the highway, flagged down a motorist and instructed him to call 911 as soon as he had a cell signal.

She returned to the accident scene and waited with Wooden and Knobloch an additional two hours for rescuers to arrive. Rescue personnel took Wooden from the trail to an awaiting ambulance. He was taken to Spearfish Regional Hospital for stabilization, and was then transported to Rapid City Regional where he underwent seven hours of surgery. 

Wooden sustained significant facial injuries in the accident: compound fractures of both wrists, significant knee and hip injuries and a severed thoracic artery. He goes to physical therapy three times a week, and will have one more surgery on his left arm to remove a plate.

John Ginther, associate director of Residence Life at BHSU, said the BHSU community is grateful to Knobloch and Venables for their quick thinking and care of their fellow student.

“The Black Hills are known for their beauty and the people who inhabit them. We take care of one another, and the students at BHSU are no exception,” said Ginther. “Preston and Alexis embody everything that BHSU stands for and hopes to instill in its students – critical thinking skills, the ability to take decisive action, determination, innovation and problem solving, and a need to help others.”

Phil Pesheck, director of Public Safety at BHSU, presented Knobloch and Venables with the award. Emergency responders and personnel who assisted in the event were also present during the awards presentation, which took place Dec. 2 during halftime at the men’s basketball game.

“By their immediate actions, under difficult and extraordinary circumstances, these BHSU students demonstrated exceptional courage, presence of mind and swift action. Their team work and selfless actions are to be commended,” said Pesheck.

Wooden hopes to resume studying psychology at BHSU this fall.

“I want to say thank you to Preston and Alexis. They truly deserve this award and I’m glad they’re receiving this recognition,” he said. “They saved my life.”

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