Helen Beard was poolside with her son and partner at a Florida hotel when she heard a scream and turned to find a 1-year-old girl dangling from a fourth-story balcony. She leapt up and positioned herself beneath the toddler just in time to catch her, saving the girl from certain injury.
The 46-year-old British data analyst said she didn't consider herself a hero, even though she was showered with awards Friday for her actions two days ago.
"It feels a bit daunting to be here for something that was instinctive," said Beard, of Worksop, England. "It felt like it was something anyone would have done and I feel honored to be recognized in this way."
Beard, who is on a 12-day vacation in Orlando with her partner and 10-year-old son, was given the Orange County Sheriff Office's Medal of Merit. She also received awards from a local branch of the chamber of commerce and the state Department of Children and Family Services.
In addition, the chamber gave the family passes and $100 gift certificates to Orlando's SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Walt Disney World theme parks.
"It is certainly one of the most remarkable stories of the year," Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said during a news conference Friday.
The toddler, Jah-Nea Myles, was not seriously hurt, though she did hit her head on the rail of a third-floor balcony during the fall.
"It was a very surreal event," Beard said. "... Luckily I had my flat shoes on and I managed to run over and catch her as she lost her grip. It all happened so quickly. And I just sat with her and tried to calm her down. Everyone was panicking around me because it was very hectic."
According to the sheriff's department incident report, Jah-Nea apparently slipped out through the railing of her fourth-floor balcony, but was able to briefly grab ahold of it. Jah-Nea's mother, Helena Myles, told deputies her daughter was being watched by a friend, Dominique Holt, at the time.
Holt said she had gone to the bathroom and then heard screams. She told officials that the balcony door may have been cracked, but that she was certain it was not wide open. DCF is investigating the incident.
Jah-Nea's parents were not at the ceremony, and Beard said she had not spoken with them.
Beard said that her family deliberately avoided the media attention from the incident afterward and "snuck off to Disney" on Thursday before returning late in the evening. She said she has already started getting text messages from friends who heard about the rescue in England.
"I think I just want to get back to my vacation really," Beard said. "But I think it's nice to have a good news story in these difficult times for all of us. ... It's been an eventful couple of days."