How Being a Girl Scout Saved My Life

Their tight-knit Buddy System was a literal life-saver.

The benefits of the Girl Scouts are well-known: developing leadership skills, instilling a strong sense of self, encouraging positive values and healthy relationships, among others. One of the most important facets of the program involves fostering healthy relationships, often leading to unbreakable bonds, sometimes through the Buddy Program. But for one Girl Scout alum, Linda Walker, now a retired school teacher, the Girl Scouts was so much more than just a path to friendship—they actually saved her life. (Psst: did you know these famous women were also Girl Scouts?)

Meeting the buddy who would save her life

In the summer of 1967, Walker was about to enter sixth grade after having recently moved. Being new to town, her mother signed her up for Girl Scouts. She joined Pisgah Girl Scout Camp in Brevard, North Carolina, where she was paired with a buddy named Laurie Luna in a four-person tent. At camp, Walker and Luna’s lives were tightly intertwined. Walker explains to us, “As a Girl Scout, you are taught the Buddy System. To have someone to rely on, to know where you’re going, to talk over things with, and to develop a friendship. Little did I know how important that single skill would be in my life.”

Disaster strikes

After canoeing with Luna one afternoon, lightning struck a tree outside the girls’ A-frame tent. “As happens in the mountains in summertime, a storm blew in and sent us all to our tents,” Walker recalls. “Lightning struck and its path lead through me. I was laying on the floor severely burned and unconscious.” As bad luck would have it, Walker had been standing on her metal bed at the time. As she told the Girl Scouts: “It traveled from the metal clothesline stretched between that tree and another one—burning all the bathing suits—went down into the tree roots, which were tied up into the floorboards of the tents, and hit my bed.” Instantly, two-thirds of Walker’s body was burned.

Saved by a Scout

The other three girls in the tent screamed and fled, but Luna quickly realized her buddy was missing and went back to look for her—only to find Walker on the floor of the tent. “The other three girls ran from the tent, unaware, scared to death,” Walker remembers. “Laurie realized her Buddy was not among them. She came back for me. Seeing me, she sped to the counselors, brought help, and, in doing so, saved my life.” The counselor raced to give Walker CPR, who then was rushed to the hospital by a nurse.

Although her parents were told to mentally prepare themselves for bad news due to major burns, both internally and externally, Walker turned a corner—all thanks to Luna’s quick intervention. “The timing of getting artificial respiration and being taken to the hospital allowed me to recover with little health issues and to continue on with my life—to be a teacher, a wife, a mother, and a part of the world,” Walker says. Looking for more inspiring stories? New York has launched its first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.

The aftermath

“I was in pretty bad shape in the hospital as camp ended and my parents focus, was, obviously, on me,” Walker tells Reader’s Digest. “So, even though they brought Laurie by to see me as she headed home, but we didn’t think to get her contact information. She actually walked out of my room thinking I was moving toward death.” Walker recovered and returned home, but the memories lingered. “Each day, month, year that propelled my life forward made getting a thank you to Laurie more difficult.”

Reconnecting years later

After years as a Girls Scout troop leader, followed by three decades as an eighth-grade science teacher, Walker and Luna finally got back in touch thanks to the “Missed Connections” series on NPR. “An NPR story finally gave me a glimmer of hope. The story was part of a series of helping with getting lost connections reconnected. They worked with me to finally make finding Laurie a reality,” Walker says.

Together, they toured the camp where their lived had fatefully interviewed, more than 50 years after first camping together as buddies. “As we were escorted around, we pieced together common memories of camp. It was very surreal. My memories of her were fully realized: caring, kind, humorous, and very responsive,” Walker remembers. “We had a thread that had stayed intact over all those years. I owe much to her, however, she was gracious and we fell comfortably into conversation.

“I have had a full, rich life—with a great career and a family—all because of Laurie and the Girl Scout buddy system,” Walker says. “I feel immense gratitude for the Girl Scout Buddy System and Laurie Luna. My future now includes a friend that has a claim many friends cannot declare: my friend gave me my future.”

Can’t wait for Girl Scouts cookie time each year? Check out these 10 surprising secrets about Girl Scouts cookies.

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Nadine Jolie Courtney
Nadine Jolie Courtney is a Virtuoso travel advisor and regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering travel, culture, and health. A former magazine editor based in Santa Monica, she also covers lifestyle and parenting, with regular outlets including The Healthy, Oprah Mag, Town & Country, Business Insider, and many other publications. Courtney is the author of four books, including ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL, a Kirkus Best Book of 2019. Follow her on Instagram @nadinejoliecourtney