Austin Darnell of Saucier was one of more than 300 Boy Scouts taking part in the three-day Pine Burr Council Bicentennial Celebration at Centennial Park. Darnell, 19, joined members of Gulfport Troop 333 on Saturday as they learned about 200 years of Mississippi’s history.
But Darnell is different than most of the Scouts at the campout — he’s in the elite 5 percent of Scouts who earn the highest honor, the rank of Eagle Scout. His path to becoming an Eagle Scout, however, has been challenging.
He was born with mitochondrial disease. Mitochondria are components in cells that create about 90 percent of the body’s energy. Lack of mitochondria can lead to fatigue and weakened or undeveloped muscles.
“I don’t have a lot of upper body strength and my legs get tired after walking,” Darnell said. “this made it difficult when I had to do swimming exercises for a badge and when we went hiking. I also have to drink a lot of water and eat a lot of protein because my body doesn’t produce enough protein.”
He said he joined the Boy Scouts when he was 11. When he made the rank of Second Class, several ranks below that of Eagle Scout, he thought about quitting.
“It was tough when I got to the level of Second Class because there was a lot of swimming involved and I can’t get in the water for long periods of time,” he said. “But they made some adjustments and helped me get through it.”
Greg Stewart, Pine Burr district commissioner, said he admired Darnell’s tenacity in achieving his goal.
“I’ve known Austin a long time and I knew he had a significant health issue,” Stewart said. “But he overcame it and he’s been a really great Scout.”
Darnell, a senior at Harrison Central High School, said a family member also encouraged him to become an Eagle Scout.
“My grandfather really wanted me to finish the program,” he said.
Unfortunately, Darnell said his grandfather did not see him fulfill his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.
“My grandfather died before I started my service project for to get my Eagle badge,” he said. “He wanted me to become an Eagle Scout and I was determined that I was going to do it.”
Melvin Evans, who works for the city of Gulfport, was Darnell’s scoutmaster before he retired.
“Out of all of the young men I’ve worked with, Austin had to do things a little differently and he’s one of my favorite Scouts,” Evans said. “He’s a fine Scout.”
With his Eagle badge achieved and his days as an active Boy Scout winding down, Darnell said he is grateful for his time with Troop 333.
“The biggest thing that I’ve gotten out of being a Boy Scout is helping people out,” he said. “Seeing a smile on their faces puts a smile on mine.”