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Lessons to be Learned Being up a Creek without a Paddle

Mark and I had previous whitewater rafting experience about 15 years ago. During that trip, we were both flipped out of the raft on one of the rapids, and trapped under the raft. I was scared beyond belief gasping for air as I swam away from the raft and floated to the surface of the water.

'Hard forward! Dig! Dig! Dig!'

Those were the commands of our whitewater rafting guide, 'Moondog', as we journeyed down four miles of the Cheat River near Albright, West Virginia.

On a recent two and one half-hour trip, my husband Mark, and good friend Sherry, knew that we were in for an adventure when we started off on our journey.

The brochure of the Cheat River Outfitters, Inc. ( indicated the rapids were Class II - III.

The trip was described as a moderately, exciting adventure. Mark and I had previous whitewater rafting experience about 15 years ago. During that trip, we were both flipped out of the raft on one of the rapids, and trapped under the raft. I was scared beyond belief gasping for air as I swam away from the raft and floated to the surface of the water. Mark and I were rescued by another group of people in their raft, as we floated downstream. We were both traumatized by the experience and hadn't returned to this sport ever since this incident.

Ten years ago on a bicycling trip, I sustained a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the waist down. It hadn't occurred to me over these past years that I would ever be able to go whitewater rafting again due to my injury. But when we were recently on vacation, I felt the urge to give it a try again. After all, I was on a quest to take back my life, and this was one more activity for me to explore.

When we got to the outfitter's headquarters, I grabbed a paddle, put on sunscreen, a life jacket and helmet. Since I can walk with assistance by holding onto Mark's arms, we left my wheelchair in the van. We walked into the bus and took a 25 minute ride up the river. When the bus stopped at the raft put in point, Mark assisted me down to the river's edge about 30 yards away.

The route to the river's edge was covered with large boulders. It was extremely difficult for me to position my feet and slowly maneuver my way, one careful step at a time. Frequently, I paused to catch my breath. I was determined to walk with Mark's assistance, and didn't want others to carry me across the rocks. "If they can do it, so can I!"

Once I was seated in the middle of the raft, Sherry sat in front of me on the right, and Mark sat on her left. Moondog sat in the back. He took my paddle and threw it to someone standing on the shore, and yelled, "We won't be needing this!"

As the boat started to drift down the river, I said, "Hey that's my paddle!" Moondog explained that since he was responsible for my safety, he did not want to risk me falling into the water. He wanted me to just sit in the middle of the boat, brace my feet, and hold on to the strap with both hands.

I was disappointed that I couldn't be a full participant. I also realized that my disability was a limitation, and that my safety was paramount. Now as an observer and cheerleader to Mark and Sherry, a first timer to rafting, it was time to enjoy the ride.

The sun was shining, and the river was crystal clear as we approached the first rapid. There was another raft filled with people and eight 'duckies' or small rubber kayaks, accompanying us on the river trip. Mark and Sherry worked as a team as Moondog gave them the forward and backward commands.

On the first rapid, our raft bumped into a few of the large boulders along the way and the raft started to turn in circles. Water came splashing up into the boat, drenching us. We braced ourselves to stay in the raft. We were exhilarated as we successfully went through our first obstacle. 'YEEH HAAA!'

We continue to go through a series of moderately difficult rapids. Early in the trip, in one of the rapids, Sherry fell overboard. Mark and I quickly grabbed her hand and life jacket and pulled her back inside the raft. She had a stunned look on her face as if to be thinking, 'What happened?' Immediately, she sat back up and regained her paddling position, following Moondog's hurried commands as we continued down the rapid.

After about an hour on the river, the sky darkened and the winds picked up. Then we could hear thunder from a distance and it started to rain. Moondog guided us to the river's edge where he anticipated we would wait out the storm. There was no place to take cover for safety. The storm moved in very quickly, and we were pelted by the rain.

We agreed to continue our quest downriver in spite of the active lightning and thunder storm that was right over us. The wind was so intense that Mark and Sherry had to paddle fiercely just to go down river. We were cold, drenched, and scared! Our trip suddenly looked dangerous!
I tried to cheer up the group and started singing,'Row Row, Row Your Boat.' That got a laugh and eased the tension. We continued down the river, and kept our heads downward hoping the storm would soon blow over. When we were splashed by the river water, we realize that it was warmer than the rain water.

After about 20 minutes, the storm ended and the sun returned. We searched the sky for a rainbow. With smiles on our faces, we continued to the next set of rapids. The challenge was more difficult. The two upcoming rapids were named 'Calamity' and 'Meat Grinder'. Our guide was very experienced, and with his help, Sherry and Mark successfully made their way through them. When we reached the take-out point, we were actually disappointed and wanted to go farther since we were having so much fun!

Looking back, I must say that I had a great experience by only being an observer and not paddling. I felt an extreme sense of accomplishment by overcoming my fear of rafting. There are some fears and obstacles in our lives that challenge us. We must be willing to meet them and execute action.

I also realized that the pop up storm was a temporary set back. When I analyzed the danger, I realized that lighting was not likely to strike a rubber raft, so my fear subsided. There are many times in our lives when we are faced with danger, set backs and challenges. Perhaps if we view these circumstances as temporary and know that they will blow over, we can better cope with our situation and look for the rainbow after the storm.

Copyright by Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. 2008

Byline: Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is a speaker, trainer and author. To book her to speak at a conference, or to subscribe to her free monthly inspirational column, go to:

Rosemarie conducts presentations that bring out the best in people, to help them achieve goals, and take charge of their lives. Rosemarie helps her audiences discover their inner strength. Her core message is focused on sharing information, strategies, and life lessons that provide the tools to LIVE LIFE WITH CONVICTION.

She is the author of "Take Back Your Life!" and is Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2004.

Rosemarie would like to receive your comments about the impact her article has made on your life. Write her at:

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