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'I thought I was going to die'

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One second. You wouldn’t think such a small amount of time could change everything.

Over the past couple of years, my faith hasn’t been very strong. It was starting to really get to me. I felt like I was on an old record player, stuck on repeat — doing the same thing everyday. I needed it to stop; I needed to make a change and reconnect with God. What better place to do that than by going to one of God’s most beautiful creations: Alaska.

It just so happened that one of my best friends from college was working at a resort up there for the summer. I hadn’t seen her in more than four years, so when she invited me to visit, I couldn’t pass up such an amazing opportunity. I decided to go, explore new things, reconnect with God and have an adventure.

Boy did I!

On the day before I left, my friend and I did something she’d been waiting all summer to try: whitewater rafting. I had never done any rafting or canoeing before and couldn’t wait to try something new. We headed to the rafting headquarters and got ready to go down the river. There were eight of us going on the raft, including my friend and I, and the guide. After we were fitted with gear, the guide gave the safety instructions.

After the group got into the raft, we set off on our journey. The scenery along the river was breathtaking with high hills covered in granite rock and mini waterfalls straight out of a brochure. The rapids we went through were exhilarating, creating 4- to 5-foot waves. We all laughed and screeched when the water would splash up and hit us. It was only about 50-55 degrees out, so you can imagine how cold the water was.

Ahead of us was another raft with only three people in it — the guide and a couple. Unlike us, they weren’t paddling; the guide was doing all the work with long oars. I was glad we were in the paddling raft because it seemed like we were having more fun.

We were on the last mile of our trip when it took a turn for the worse. There was a right turn coming up and according to our guide the rapids were rougher than any rapids we had faced so far. The guide must not have seen some rocks sticking up out of the water because all of a sudden he yelled, ‘ROCKS!’ I jerked my head to the left and saw we were about to hit them.

One second. That’s all it took. One second I was in the raft having an amazing time and the next I’m coming up for air. It hits me. I’m in the river. I couldn’t process what was happening. Am I really here right now? I’m being thrashed around by the waves so hard it’s like someone is shoving me side to side. I have absolutely no control whatsoever of anything. I get turned around so I’m going down the river backward when my hip connects with a rock. Thankfully, so much adrenaline was pumping through me, the hit just feels like my sister hitting me on the shoulder like when we were kids.

That blow to my body made me remember what our guide had said to do in case we went in the water. He told us the rule of thumb was to lay on your back. I immediately did that. Finally I got to a calm spot and rose up to see where I was. What I saw 30 feet down the river horrified me — 5-foot rapids crashing left to right, front to back. And I was headed straight for them.

I knew in my mind, this was it. I was going to die. I remember shaking my head as I looked up to the sky. I said, ‘God, I don’t want to. I don’t want to!’ Fear had struck me to my very core. I tried to swim to the left but it was no use. The river was taking me right where I didn’t want to go.

I went through the rapids and was sucked under. I kicked to the top and gasped for air. I flailed in the water, trying to stay afloat. I went under again, but for longer this time. It didn’t hit me until days later, but I literally thought I died. When I went under that last time, I blacked out. I thought my life had ended because when I came up, I was surprised I was still alive. I looked around me and saw the other raft ahead of me. They yelled at me to swim toward them.

I swam as hard as I could because I knew the raft meant safety. If I make it to the raft, I’ll be ok. While the guide steadied the raft, another man reached down, grabbed my lifejacket and pulled me up. My lifejacket started to choke me and I began to panic because I couldn’t breathe. Then a calmness came over me. I knew if I waited just a moment I’d be in the raft and then I could breathe. I held the breath already in my lungs and let him pull me completely into the raft.

I was alive.

We got the raft to shore. I was trying to get a grip on what had just happened to me. I began pacing back and forth. I knew that this was a life changing moment for me and I wanted something to remember it by. I looked down at thousands of beautiful rocks. A white rock with black spots caught my eye. I grabbed it, stuffed it down my dry suit for safekeeping.

It’s been a few weeks since the accident and I still have a hard time talking about it. I can’t believe something like that happened to me, but I know a couple of things for sure. It wasn’t the man who pulled me from the river that saved me. It wasn’t my lifejacket that kept me afloat, although it helped enormously. The thing that saved me from drowning in the river was God. He saved me. I know without a shadow of a doubt I would not be writing this if it hadn’t been for Him. I would have drowned.

When I look back on those fearful minutes in the river I now realize there were things God protected me from. I never felt how cold the water was. It could have been burning hot or freezing cold, but I never felt a thing. Secondly, God took away my fear of going under water without my nose plugged. Ever since I was little, I’ve hated that. Not once did I think about that while fighting for my life. Not once did my nose hurt from the water.

I know this has happened for a reason. That sounds so cliché, but there was a reason I took a trip to Alaska and felt the need to reconnect with God. This was God’s wake up call to me. This was Him snapping His fingers in front of my eyes that were hypnotized by worldly things. My eyes are now open and alert to what He has in store for me. Every time I hold that rock, I’m taken back to that river and to the moment I thought was my last. I close my eyes, thank Him for saving me and pray I never forget what a blessing it is to be alive.

BECCA CLEMENS is online director of Echo Publishing.

Becca Clemens
After graduating high school in 2004, I attended Central Lakes College in Staples, MN for 2 years where I got a diploma in Communication Art and Design. I then transfered up to Bemidji State University in, you guessed it, Bemidji, MN. In the spring of 2009, I graduated from BSU. Then in the fall of 2009 I got a job at Echo Publishing, a sister company to the Brainerd Dispatch.