Book Excerpt: Swiftwater Rescue Failure

I stood near the eddy in a faded mauve and blue wetsuit, shifting my weight left, right, left, right, toying with the Velcro tabs that encased me in smelly neoprene. How many people had worn this wetsuit before me, marked with a bold white 25 on the thigh? How many trips down the river in a blue and yellow raft had it made before I wriggled into it? How many leaps off the four-storey rock wall and into the swift current beneath? I didn’t want to know how many times someone had peed in it when he thought no one was looking.


I tightened the chin strap of my white-as-a-cue-ball helmet and dipped a toe in the eddy. The sun shot hot September rays down on me. Sweat trickled down my temples and into my eyes. I squinted. Another eddy had formed about 50 meters away, in between two wide swaths of black moving water. My destination was an island, a further 50 meters away from the eddy. The game plan was swim to the eddy, rest for a few seconds, swim to the island.


I sighed. I hated to swim when I couldn’t see the bottom. I’d never swum in current. I sighed again, trying to get air into the bottom of my lungs. My heartbeat would not slow. It pounded in my neck like a big oompah band. Success only came if I swam. With another sigh, I eased into the river and started swimming upstream against the mighty Ottawa River.


I struggled to keep my breathing under control. My body wanted to hyperventilate. I battled the current to make every stroke count as the river pushed me further away from the little eddy. I missed it and kept swimming for the island, hoping to catch its southern edge, else I risked getting swept downstream into the boils beneath Pushbutton or worse, Butchers Knife, never to be seen again. The instructors running this swiftwater rescue course had put the fear of God in me.


How on earth had I thought this program would make for a good career change launch pad? Vowing never to get into whitewater sports after this I propelled myself forward and beached myself on the island. I panted to myself, tears of frustration, fear, and exhaustion stinging my eyes.


The young instructors were urging us to swim back. We’d taken too much time with this exercise already. I stood up, calculated my entry into the river and started swimming upstream once again. Not ten meters across and someone from the safety raft grabbed the back of my PFD and hauled me over the gunnels and into the raft.


I hung my head, cheeks burning. I needed a nap and a liter of water to soothe the dehydrated charley horse screaming in my left calf. No time to feel sorry for myself. I grabbed a spare paddle and started for shore, pulling struggling classmates into the raft as we neared shore. I doubted my ability to see this career change through to its end.


I’m writing a career change memoir and I’d love your feedback as I post small ~300 word blurbs. What do you want to know more about? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? Comment below or e-mail me.

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