It was a hot July three years ago and Manassas Park Eagle Scout candidate Lionel Vidal stared into the sepia-colored water of the huge lake and wrestled with an almost overwhelming desire not to jump in.
He knew how to swim, but this was his fifth attempt at trying to pass the swimming test. Without passing, he couldn’t go on to being named an Eagle Scout. Lake Merriwether, at the Goshen Scout Reservation in rural Virginia near Lexington, is a bucolic setting.
As he stood on the dock, it was if he was replaying the conundrum captured by 19th century German satirist Heinrich Heine when he wrote about the difference between men of thought and men of action. Vidal had clearly plotted out the swimming test in his head, now he had to make the choice—was he a man of action?
Yes, he was. He jumped in. And casually, as casually as he dared, swam through the brown Virginia lake water of indeterminate depth.
“It was hot and we really couldn’t wait to get into the water,” recalled Vidal, 18. “I just thought to myself, I’m going to blow through this test and not worry about what’s underneath, on the bottom.”
By passing the test in 2009, Vidal earned the swimming merit badge, moving him that much closer to being named an Eagle Scout, which happened last year. Vidal is one of three Eagle Scouts from Manassas Park’s Troop 1370 – the others are Kyle Brendel and Augustus MacDonald.
Vidal started scouting at six-years-old, when his family moved here from New York City. It wasn’t his decision, his mother signed him up. But it’s been a blast, he said. “It’s really been a great time,” he said.
In order to become an Eagle Scout a Boy Scout must, in addition to many other things, obtain the rank of Life Scout, earn 21 merit badges, complete a service project and hold a leadership position within the organization.
The service project was tough, Vidal said. His buddy had done a local food drive and Vidal said he didn’t want to copy off of him. He finally came up with the idea of doing a book drive, collecting used books to be donated to PEFAN, a nonprofit which helps children and youth.
He collected books from all over town, setting up drop boxes and taking out advertisements. In the end, he sent off about 10 boxes of books to the group, which then distributed them to poor children who didn’t have independent access to such reading material.
His leadership position was Troop Guide, sort of a mentor for guiding new scouts who join, said troop Scoutmaster Kevin Brendel, Kyle’s dad. Vidal always had a never-give-up spirit about him, Brendel said.
“Lionel's accomplishments in Boy Scouts are a direct reflection of his perseverance to master the requirements and the many merit badges,” Brendel said. “No matter how difficult, he never gave up. Lionel's learning to swim and completing the Swimming Merit Badge are an example of his perseverance.”
These days, Vidal is taking classes at NOVA with the goal of moving on to a four-year state college and earning a degree in biology. But, he has fond memories of scouting.
“It was 12 years of pure fun,” Vidal said. “Scouting was a great time and I had a lot of fun.”