While researching things to do in Denver, Colorado prior to our vacation, I stumbled across an ad for White Water Rafting on the Visit Denver website. Something inside ignited and the urge of “having” to go became strong within me. I shared my desire to go White Water Rafting with my family and much to my surprise all members were on board. The excitement in me grew and I become incredibly anxious for this new adventure.
The day of , being worried that we would be late, I hustled everyone out of the door like an aggressive doorman and we ended up arriving at the adventure center early. Sitting and waiting only made my excitement grow. After waiting for close to 45 minutes, we suited up with our booties, life jackets and helmets. Finally it was time to load the bus and head to the river.
At the river, but while still on the bus, the lead guide went through all the worst-case scenario instructions. If you go over and go “swimming” do this, if the boat capsizes and you are in a blue room, do that. If you can’t remember anything, remember to keep your feet up in the water so you don’t get your feet stuck. I could tell that my daughter was starting to stiffen up after listening to all the things that could possibly go wrong. I reassured her that the guide had to discuss all possibilities and that we are on a beginner’s trip and those things would not happen. I also told her that if for some freak chance that something did happen, I would jump in after her and she would not be alone.
I sat at the back of the boat, with my daughter sandwiched between my partner and I, with my son at the front of the boat leading the way. When we started on the river and I could tell she was still scared, but as we progressed down the river she started to loosen up. We went down one rapid and I screamed because I did not see it coming. This broke the ice for my daughter and she began smiling more and started to give me a head’s up for future rapids.
About 1/3 of the way through the course we were told by our guide that he was sensing that not everyone was paddling. He stressed the importance of paddling and then BAM! We hit an insanely large rock on the side of the boat and the left side of the boat (the side where my family was sitting) went up into the air. I watched as my daughter lost her footing and tumbled into the frigid water to the right side of the boat. With my motherly instinct kicking in, stronger than it ever has, I jumped in after her.
I held onto her jacket and kept her back on my chest. Another member of our group dumped out of the boat as well and he was holding onto me by the back of my life jacket. We tumbled through the water bouncing off rocks and going down rapids. With the additional weight of the person behind me, my head continued to get dunked under and I was taking in more water than a person should. I kept reminding my daughter to keep her feet up, as that was the only thing that I could remember from the instruction we were given. I could hear her whimpering and I was scared, so much so that I cannot find the words that describe the amount of fear that surged through my body. After hitting several rapids on the way down the river, the man holding onto me let go and I was then able to keep my head above water. I started hearing sounds coming from down the river. They were yelling “swim to me…” and I kicked harder than I have ever kicked my feet in all the years I spent as a competitive swimmer. I heard someone yell that they were going to stick out the paddle for me to grab. I reached blindly over my head and quickly made contact with the paddle. When we were at the boat I said “please get my baby in the boat”. That was all that I cared about, getting her safe. At that point I did not care if they did not get me in the boat, I just needed her to be safe. Not long after they pulled her in the boat, a very large man pulled me into the boat and I stumbled to the back of the boat to be with my daughter.
I leaned over and between my grasps for breath, I made sure she was ok and then I told her, “I promised you I would go after you and I would not let you be alone, I kept my promise…”. I attempted to stand up and my legs were so weak and wobbly. I was trying to control my breathing and at the same time trying not to vomit. Not long after being in the boat, the other man was located and our family’s boat came into sight. I have never been so relieved to see my partner and my son.
It was completely understandable that my daughter was done with the raft and wanted to go to shore, but we still had 2/3 of a trip to finish. Getting out and somehow getting back to camp was not an option. Inside I was devastated that we had to get back on the water, but I needed to be strong and brave for both of us. With tears streaming down her face, she sat inside the boat, this time sandwiched between myself and my son and we finished the tour.
We finished the rest of the river with no problems. When we got out of the river, I hugged my partner and my kids, relieved to be done with the trip and back on solid, hard ground. When we made it back to the bus, we were the talk of the larger group. People came up to us to ask how we were and if we were ok. I went through the questions to determine if I had a concussion, which I did not. We do not have any major injuries, just some scrapes and a number of bruises.
Every night when I go to sleep, I relieve what happened on the river. It was traumatic and I have not been that scared in my life at any given point. During this incident, I forgot that I had a mental illness. I thought about nothing but getting my daughter to safety and protecting her. This is a hard tale to re-tell in full detail. I sit here today with tears in my eyes and a tremble in my hands. But, much like with many other areas of my life, I press on and persevere. I take each day and make the most of it, and know that regardless of what happens, I WILL make it through it and I will come out the other side a stronger person.