Preventing Problems, Taking Action

How two life-changing events led M.J. Doyle to become a Wilderness First Responder

When M.J. Doyle, a sophomore Lees-McRae men’s volleyball player, sat down for lunch to celebrate his best friend moving into college, he had no idea the following moments would lead him to become a Wilderness First Responder. 

Everything about lunch that day seemed normal, until, in a blink of an eye, Doyle had to make the decision that ultimately saved his best friend’s life. 

“My friend was eating and then he looked up at me with his face turning red and smacking the table,” Doyle said. “Based on my lifeguarding certification, I knew exactly what to do, and started administering the Heimlich maneuver.”

The decision Doyle made that day, paired with another event from just a few months earlier, created a desire to expand his knowledge on how to remain calm and act accordingly during emergencies.


Doyle learning how to be ready for all types of emergencies.Doyle learning how to be ready for all types of emergencies.

The other event Doyle experienced was deep in the woods on a hunting trip. A wrong move caused him to fall out of a tree stand and break his ankle.

“My ankle was completely debilitated and I did not know what to do,” said Doyle. “It was scary being at night and the trail I was on was foreign to me. I ended up having to crawl 300 yards back to my truck and one of my hunting buddies had to take me to the hospital about two hours away in Virginia Beach. This opened my eyes to the fact that I need a more solidified plan whenever I get out into the wilderness.” 

Around the same time this passion for the outdoors developed, a new found love of volleyball came into fruition. 

“I started playing volleyball my sophomore year in high school. I went once for summer practice, and I was hooked. My friend Carson Brinkman talked me into going to that first practice.”

Once Doyle started playing at Ocean Lakes High School and for a club program nearby, he met future teammates Ace Backer and Joseph Angelo, and played in a tournament together where they all heard about this college in the mountains, Lees-McRae. 

“I started looking into Lees-McRae and what was around the area. I was really fond of it. I love the mountains, and the outdoor adventures offered here is something different that you can’t get at another campus.”

After a year of settling into Banner Elk and enriching himself into the mountainous environment, Doyle’s experiences on the hunting trip and at lunch with his friend formed the idea to join a wilderness first responder course at the beginning of his sophomore year.

The summer class led by a nonprofit global wilderness school known as NOLS, is a three-credit course for all Lees-McRae students, and offers wilderness first responder certification. With a mixture of indoor and outdoor classwork, the program developed hands-on simulations to teach students what to do in every scenario.


Doyle taking part in the Wilderness First Responder course this past summer.
Doyle taking part in the Wilderness First Responder course this past summer. 


After completing the class, Doyle’s next step is to join a volunteer fire department, providing the opportunity to use his new acquired skills to help others. 

“I was thinking about doing volunteer fireman work here in Banner Elk,” said Doyle. “I need to figure out my schedule to make it work with being a full-time student as well as a member of the volleyball team.”


Doyle playing the role of an injured hiker during the field portion of the final evaluation.
Doyle playing the role of an injured hiker during the field portion of the final evaluation. 


Doyle, who will be finishing up the first semester of his sophomore year and is preparing for the start of his second volleyball season, is ready to make a difference and help people as a Wilderness First Responder.

What would you do if you were faced with a life-threatening emergency and your fight or flight response kicked in? M.J. Doyle chose to act.

By Patrick SmithOctober 22, 2020