For Outside's November Survival Issue, we wanted to meet some of the people making a difference and saving lives out there in the wilderness. Meet your rescuers.
Who: 40, M.D., founder of the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic Central Africa
What She Does: In 2007, two years after finishing medical school at the University of Chicago, Lehman traveled to Lake Tanganyika, the world's second-largest freshwater lake. Encountering an overwhelming number of people with diseases that could be cured, she decided to devote her life to providing medical care to the 3.5 million residents along its shoreline, which borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zambia. Now she's working with U.S. Navy architects and a Tanzanian shipyard to build a 200-foot floating hospital, complete with operating rooms, water ambulances, and an ICU. "There is unpredictable danger from pirates and rebel groups known for extreme violence in the area," says Lehman, whose back is covered by a tattoo of the lake.
Why She Does It: "I've been fascinated by the lake since reading about it as a teenager, and with my medical and business degrees there are so many ways I can help people there."
Gnarliest Rescue: Assisted with a crash C-section on a mother who was bleeding out during the birth of her child. Both survived.
Who: 30, cofounder, Team Rubicon Los Angeles
What He Does: In 2010, Wood, a former scout sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps, and retired Marine William McNulty came up with the idea to build a team of volunteer combat vets who could deploy quickly to disaster zones to aid relief efforts. Today, Team Rubicon has a budget of $3.1 million and an on-call list of more than 12,000 vets. "Bringing order to situations that lack it is something vets are particularly good at," Wood says. In the past year, Rubicon volunteers helped with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and, in July, with the Oklahoma City tornado.
Why He Does It: "That sense of mission, accomplishment, and purpose you have in the military—there's a big gaping hole when soldiers get out."
Gnarliest Rescue: After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Wood and seven other Team Rubicon members were driving through the streets of Port-au-Prince when they came across a valley. "There was a sign on the other side that said, 'We haven't had any help, hundreds of people are critically wounded,'" he says. "It was a treacherous climb, but we put our gear on our backs and went through the rubble. There were about 400 patients. It brought me back to mass-casualty incidents from Iraq, but it was different in that I was there to help."
Who: 38, lifeguardPuerto Escondido, Mexico
What He Does: Rodriguez pulls surfers and tourists from the deadly 10-to-25-foot waves that detonate on Playa Zicatela.
Why He Does It: "I believe God made me a lifeguard for a reason," says Rodriguez, who has completed some 1,500 rescues in his 13-year career and also owns a local surf school. "Even if it's just to rescue one person."
Gnarliest Rescue: One stormy Sunday afternoon in 2010, with 8-to-10-foot surf, hard rain, and extremely low visibility, Rodriguez spotted a person in the water waving his arms. He and his partner immediately swam toward the victim. It turned out to be a man, his wife, and their young son, who had been sucked out by a strong current and had swallowed large amounts of water. "The man yelled for us to leave him and save his wife and son, who were facedown," says Rodriguez. But he and the lifeguards pulled them all out, administered CPR, and rushed them to an ambulance. The whole family was in critical condition but lived.
Who: 34, Yosemite law-enforcement ranger, Yosemite Valley, California
What He Does: A specialist in high-angle rescues, Smith plucks injured climbers from Yosemite's massive rock walls. Often this means dangling from a rope 250 feet below a helicopter as pilots and spotters work to "insert" him and 30 pounds of gear onto a rock face—an incredibly dangerous technique called short-hauling. "All bets are off if the helicopter hits the wall," he says.
Why He Does It: "I can be law enforcement, run up the trail to help someone, or hop in a helicopter. I never know what I'm going to be doing."
Gnarliest Rescue: Last October, a 40-year-old climber was stranded 230 feet below the summit of El Capitan, in a snowstorm, with no shelter. Due to weather, a helicopter rescue was out of the question. With two others, Smith hiked up 3,000 vertical feet and eventually found a route to the climber. "I got lowered down to him, and then we hauled him up," Smith says. "It was a lot of difficult problem solving in a raging storm, and I'd never done a rescue with so few people before."
Next Up: Survive This: 3 Harrowing Tales