The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:
Tell us about a time you said no to something or someone and are glad you did.
Joe told a hair-raising story about life and death in an amusement park. Enjoy his winning submission:
We are a family of four that loves doing things together, and one day we were at a roller coaster amusement park. My everyday job is being a lineman for a local utility company. I love to climb and suppose that is why the family loves rock climbing. I seem to be happiest when I am up 50 feet with the adrenaline pounding in my veins.
The plan was to spend the night in a hotel near the park, get up, have pancakes, and then head off to ride the coasters. Things were working well and we were in line for our first ride. My 10-year-old daughter said she had to go to the bathroom, but I suggested that she wait until after the ride. The first set of cars was filling up, and the family in front of us said they would like to trade places with us so they would be in the first car of the next ride. I said no, and we went to the bathroom instead. The cars were going to leave, so the folks in front of us got into the last car.
When we came out of the bathroom, there was pandemonium. People were running and screaming. We heard sirens in the distance and could not imagine what had happened.
We went to the coaster that we had been going to ride, and the operator said there had been an accident and the cars had come off the tracks. Walking over to where people were looking up, we saw cars hanging from the rails. People were hanging on to the cars, and clearly some had fallen. I then saw the last car hanging on to the tracks and holding the family that had wanted to switch with us. They were clutching each other, and the wife was screaming.
It was not clear how much longer the whole line of cars would hold together, and if they fell, all would certainly die, as they were up at least 50 feet. The first emergency crew had just arrived on the scene and were standing there discussing what to do. I ran over and told them what I do for a living. The crew foreman said that no one wanted to try to climb, as the cars might fall.
He had a roll of rope and a harness, so I grabbed that and started to climb. I was able to get up to the cars and tried to calm the family. The harness was secured around the woman, who was now calmer. I was able to rig the rope by several wraps around the pipe of the structure so that I would be able to slowly lower the woman in the harness.
When she was safely on the ground, I pulled the rope back to lower the next victim. The TV crews were now there and filming my work, and I just knew I would be asking the park for some free passes.