Sick 8-year-old boy becomes Yosemite park ranger for a day
An 8-year-old boy got to save the day many times over at Yosemite National Park this week.
Gabriel Lavan-Ying put out a forest fire, rescued an injured hiker and rode in a helicopter — all before a federal judge dubbed him one of just a handful of honorary rangers for the park.
The Gainesville, Florida boy was flown to Northern California with his two siblings and parents to fulfill a desire he shared with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"He loves the outdoors, always has," Marissa Gajos, wish coordinator for the foundation's Central and Northern Florida chapter, told the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles. "He'd never been to Yosemite before. It was easily his first pick."
Gabriel has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an incurable and debilitating disorder that affects the body's connective tissues, primarily the skin, joints and blood vessel walls. But his condition didn’t deter his enthusiasm on Tuesday at Yosemite, where he was given a ranger uniform and hat and numerous opportunities to tackle typical ranger challenges.
“He was so happy, he was so engaged, and just so in the moment. He was like that the entire day," National Park Ranger Scott Gediman told TODAY.com. "He impressed me beyond belief.”
Gediman, a public affairs officer for Yosemite, accompanied Gabriel for the entire day, starting just before 9 a.m. and finishing around 5 p.m.
“He didn’t falter one bit," Gediman said. "He just wanted to go and jumped into everything."
“Ranger Gabriel” went on a nature walk, met with the park superintendent, looked for birds and insects and got issued his own park radio to communicate with other rangers. He also rode in a fire truck to a real fire that he helped extinguish.
He then came to the rescue of an "injured hiker" (another park ranger) who hurt her ankle. He helped lower the victim on a stretcher with a system of ropes and pulleys, and then helped her into an ambulance.
The day ended at the visitors center with a ceremony attended by about 300 people, including nearly 50 park rangers, members of the Yosemite community and numerous park visitors. A U.S. magistrate judge presided over the ceremony, where Gabriel received a plaque, several park badges and a flag flown over Yosemite Valley.
“We’ve only made four or five honorary park rangers. We don’t take it lightly,” Gediman said. “The ceremony was pretty emotional. He loved every second. It just could not have been better."