by J. R. Wagner
Way back in April I posted the first part of my Adventure Racing stories with the promise of more to come. Well, here is part 2.
My second story is also located at Ohiopyle. This time, Mack (I've changed all the names to protect the privacy of those involved.) and I decided to pair up with two others, John and Erin, to form a four-person team. The race began with a ten-mile sprint on the bike along the river to the paddle section. We got in our two-person kayaks (Mack and I in one and John and Erin in the other) and quickly paddled downstream to the take out.
Mack and I passed John and Erin, who had managed to get their kayak wedged on a rock within sight of the take-out. We were too far away moving too fast to offer any help so we made our way to the take-out.
The screaming began as I was stepping out of the boat. Mack’s face went pale. I don’t remember what was said, exactly, I just remember looking upstream and seeing John positioned behind a rock in the river. His expression the picture of anguish as he pulled at something under the water. It was Erin. His wife. He had told her to hop in the water and float to the take-out while he dislodged the kayak.
Erin is a very small woman so when she came to a boulder in the river rather than maneuvering around it as most of us would with little effort, the pressure of the water pushed her against the rock and under the water. She was pinned.
I had met their children just before the race. They were no older than five. Their faces hovered in my mind as I saw John collapse from exhaustion and float downstream only remaining above water because of his life jacket.
I didn’t think, I acted. I ran upstream until I was directly across from the boulder. Mike tossed me an end of his throw-rope and I cinched it around my waist as I moved into the river. I walked/swam to the boulder. I couldn’t even see Erin beneath the churning water and part of me was afraid of what I’d find if I reached down into the water. Imagine –I’m standing just behind the rock where Erin is pinned. I’m standing not being thrust into the rock or pulled under the water yet somewhere in the grey water Erica has died. It’s been at least two minutes maybe three. There is no way she isn’t dead.
I didn’t reach for her. I don’t know why –fear, I imagine although in retrospect I’d gotten that far without fear so I’m not really sure why I didn’t reach for her. All this –my arriving upstream just in front of the boulder and contemplating my next move- happened in a matter of seconds. Others arrived having managed to get on top of the boulder and were reaching down for her. I realized then that it was probably a good thing I didn’t reach for her because, like John, fighting against the power of the water by pulling her away from the boulder would have been a fruitless effort. The people on top of the boulder knew this and managed to rather easily pull her petite body straight up and onto the boulder.
She was dead. Pale as a dead person. Lifeless, motionless, dead. Somehow, I managed to remove the rope from around my waist and got myself up onto the boulder. A woman, I never got her name but to this day, I credit her for saving Erin’s life, asked if anyone knew CPR. I did. I’d just gotten re-certified.
She performed compressions while I breathed life back into Erin. Meanwhile two people paddled a boat upstream. We continued CPR until the boat arrived. I checked Erin’s pulse just before we lifted her into the boat. It was weak but it was there. She wasn’t so dead after all. The woman who'd been doing compressions hopped into the boat and continued CPR until they got to the take-out where a professional rescue team was waiting to get her on a backboard and carry her up an insanely steep hillside and probably another quarter mile down a trail to a waiting ambulance which would then speed to the helicopter landing zone less than a mile away. She would be taken to a trauma center in Pittsburgh.
She lived. Her children had their mother. John and Erin went on to have more children. They gave me a medal –although I don’t think I deserved one. I wasn’t the one who pulled her out of the water –those people should get a medal. I wasn’t the one who took the lead with the CPR –that woman should get a medal. Not me. Sure I played some small part in her rescue but people kept calling me a ‘hero’ and that made (and makes me to this day) uncomfortable.
I never questioned whether CPR actually saved lives after that day. I never took for granted the power of water either. I’ve paddled that section of river again. I’ve paddled other places as well –larger rapids, more dangerous…but every time I get in the water I remember and I’m not quite so reckless. I give the river the respect it deserves.
I was able to find a map of that section of the river and, I believe, narrow down the very boulder against which Erin was pinned. If I am correct, the boulder, to this day, is not marked as a pin hazard by the PA DCNR (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources).
To read the first post about my racing adventures, click here
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the second book from The Never Chronicles
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A tale of perseverance, strength and redemption.