Most people will live their entire lives and never be a hero. But for Matthew Olsen, the opportunity came during his first year of college, when he and 10 others in the U.S. Air Force Academy Mountaineering Club saved two lives on top a 14,274-foot mountain.

It was late October and the Mountaineering Club cadets were setting off to scale Torreys Peak in central Colorado. For Olsen, who had never before done a “fourteener,” this climb was going to be a challenge.

With impressive effort, Olsen and the rest of the cadets made it to the summit and started their descent, the comfort of a warm car awaiting them below.

No one anticipated what would happen next.

With sunset quickly approaching and temperatures below freezing, the cadets stumbled upon two lost hikers, exhausted, panicked and at risk of hypothermia. The hikers were tourists whose guide, a local, had gone ahead of them and disappeared into the whiteout half an hour earlier. They were in light clothes with no food, water, shelter, maps or GPS.

Olsen immediately rose to the challenge.

“I went from being the one who needed encouragement ... to the one needing to set aside my immediate needs to save two people in danger,” he told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I couldn’t just think about getting back to the warm car anymore.”

Olsen and his fellow cadets, including Lt. Col. Robert Marshall, the officer in charge of the group and an experienced hiker who has summited Everest, jumped into action. In a prime instance of real-world training, they rescued the hikers and safely made it down the mountain.

“This is not the classroom. This is in nature where there are real consequences,” Marshall said. “This is why these cadets were accepted into the Air Force Academy, this is why they are fit to serve this nation.”

The USAFA Mountaineering Club is set to be honored at the annual American Red Cross Colorado Springs Hometown Heroes Dinner on March 15.

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