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Injury during Eagle Scout project has silver linings

Two sons, two dog park projects, two broken legs add up to Project Award in Forest Grove

COURTESY PHOTO: JAN NELSON - When Tony Nelson made his fateful jump from a slipping ladder on July 11, he broke tibias in both legs and his right fibula. On Jan. 4, he stood on two legs for the first time since the accident. Two broken legs.

One big, unfinished Eagle Scout project he'd been helping his son complete.

Now what?

That's what Tony Nelson wondered last July as he lay on the hard, sunbaked dirt watching his right foot dangle awkwardly from his leg.

Tanner Nelson's plan to construct two shelters in the fenced dog areas at Forest Grove's Thatcher Park was more than his Eagle Scout project. It was a rivalry with his older brother, Zack, who five years earlier earned his Eagle Scout rank for organizing construction of a fence for the larger of Thatcher's two dog parks.

Zack was only 13 at the time, which is young to earn Eagle Scout. Nationwide, Scouts don't usually make Eagle until they're at least 17 due to several time-consuming requirements for earning the rank.

Tanner, wanting to match his brother's feat, was also 13 as he worked on the project last summer.

"I couldn't let him be the cool one," Tanner said.

But on that July day, as his number-one helper lay on the ground with two broken legs, awaiting an ambulance, Tanner realized he'd need a miracle to finish the shelters before his birthday in October.

Tanner's miracle was honored recently with a special award from the Forest Grove Parks and Recreation Department. At the Dec. 14 city council meeting, Tanner received the Project Award for Leadership and was given a certificate of appreciation from Parks & Recreation Director Tom Gamble. Additionally, Tanner's name will be added to a plaque at the city's community auditorium — a plaque with Zack's name at the head of the list for his service five years ago. COURTESY PHOTO: JAN NELSON - During summer 2015, approximately 40 volunteers helped Tanner Nelson complete his Eagle Scout project: constructing two shelters in each of Thatcher Parks dog parks.

But unlike anything his brother experienced completing his project, their dad's broken legs ensured that Tanner's achievement would take him beyond just finishing the park and keeping up with Zack. The experience also changed Tanner's feelings about his role in the family. It forced him to take up his dad's household responsibilities and, ultimately, it made him grow up — at least a little.`

Different 'families' step up

Tony had been up tightening the roof of one of the shelters when the ladder slipped out from beneath him, causing him to jump for it. He hit the dirt hard, breaking both legs low, near the ankles.

By that time, Tanner had already been working on the project for almost a year and

it was just over half com-


Fortunately for Tanner, "a lot of volunteers really stepped up" after Tony's fall, said Jan Nelson, Tanner's mother. "With Zack gone and Tony now in a hospital bed in the family room, we all had to step up."

The Nelsons belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and on June 30, Zack — a 2015 graduate of FGHS who had been helping Tanner on the project — left to serve a two-year church mission in Puerto Rico, which meant the only family members left to support Tanner were Jan and Makenna, his 15-year-old sister.

But that wasn't counting the roughly 40 people from his church and Scout families who quickly stepped up to help, including Troop 165's Scoutmaster Jake Wright.COURTESY PHOTO - To earn his Eagle Scout rank, 14-year-old Tanner Nelson had to also earn 21 merit badges, hold a position of responsibility for six months, demonstrate how he lives by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law, as well as plan, develop and lead others in a service project.

The accident might have made people more aware of how they could help the Nelsons, Wright said. "I don't know if the outpouring of volunteers wouldn't have happened before."

Tony wondered if the volunteer increase was because the shelters were starting to come together.

"When we first started, maybe it was because people couldn't see the end product, we didn't get a lot of volunteers or donations," Tony said. "But once we got the roof up, people were really willing to donate."

In the seven to eight months prior to beginning construction, Tanner had to solicit material and monetary donations from the community.

He got screws and more from Ace Hardware; support poles (and hole-digging labor) from Forest Grove Light & Power; four yards of cement from CalPortland; and a discount on equipment from Grand Rental in Cornelius.

All of this required Tanner to do something that was out of character for him.

Project benefits are personal

"Tanner is a very quiet person," said Bill Bench, Tanner's Eagle Scout mentor. "He had to come out of his shell to get this done."

Jan believes in this age of texting and impersonal communication, forcing Tanner to get right in there and make a pitch to an adult for something he needed was one of the best parts of the project.

"As a parent, it was challenging to let him do it on his own," Jan said. "But really, that's the whole point."

Tanner's success was exactly the growth Wright was looking to see in an Eagle Scout.

"It speaks to the character of the guys that they have a willingness to learn and improve themselves," Wright said.

But Tanner's growth went beyond the shelter's construction.

With design help from Bench and Robert Stoddard — the Nelsons' neighbor, friend and fellow church member — Tanner also constructed a ramp in the Nelsons' garage to accommodate Tony's now-needed wheelchair.COURTESY PHOTO: JAN NELSON - After Tanner Nelsons father broke both his legs helping with Tanners Eagle Scout project, Tanner helped build a wheelchair ramp for him.

Perhaps more than the process of putting the shelters together, which was significant, Tony's fall seemed to have jolted Tanner into a new level of maturity.

"Prior to the accident, Tanner was like most teenagers: you may have to ask him a couple times to do something," Jan said. "After Tony's fall, Tanner was quick to help and you only had to ask once. He was great about getting the wheelchair in and out of the car without being asked. He helped Tony and he helped around the house with less complaining. Tanner and Makenna have been a great help during Tony's injury."

"Tanner takes on responsibility a little more now, and he talks to people more comfortably," said Tony, who on Jan. 4 took steps on two feet for the first time since July.

Thinking about his two sons' time-consuming focus on dog-park projects, Tony smiles at the irony. "We don't even own a dog," he said.