rafting they said.
It’ll be fun they said.
We were greeted with enthusiasm – if enthusiasm was a person walking around, this was him. Bright eyes, cheeky grin, semi-Maori looking with a dark ginger moustache and a hand shake that rattled your arm up to your brain.
My 16 year old daughter and I were introduced to the safety briefings and then into the changing rooms and we geared up. Paperwork done and they loaded us on a bus. A second safety briefing – what to do if you fall out, how to swim in powerful water, and what the different hand signals meant.
A solemn moment is taken to ask the river gods for their blessing and thanking them for beautiful Mother Nature. A prayer in Maori and English. Always beautiful.
My daughter is looking at me with a big grin on her face, she’s loving it and I’m thankful for being able to experience this with her. Mr Enthusiasm is the guide in the front of our raft, he caught the moment and joined in the grin.
We go down two waterfalls, little ones the guides say. Both are about a two or three metre drop and we successfully ‘get down’ and ‘hold on’ when we’re told to.
Then they give you the option to chicken out – there’s a walking track where you can decide you’ve had enough.
The drills are gone through yet again and our boat is the first of the two to make its way to the big fall. It’s a category five – the biggest that is commercially rafted in New Zealand. It’s a seven metre drop.
We paddle as instructed and then ‘get down’, all tucked up and ready to drop.
It’s like a roller coaster, we hit the bottom. Hard! Later, the guide described it as similar to getting rear ended in a high speed car crash. Apparently the back end of the raft got stuck under a deluge of water, trapped for a while before popping out again with a bit of force.
The three people in the back, a guide, my daughter and myself were thrown out. I went under first as it was my corner of the raft that got hit the worst by the deluge.
It was black, like a dark green black. And loud, water thundering all around me. My back hit the rocks a few times. It was a few seconds before I figured out I was tumbling around in a circle, repeatedly hitting the bottom of the falls. I was stuck under the waterfall and running out of air fast.
In one of the drills, they’d told us to curl up like a ball if we were under water. I tried to do this but the water was so powerful it was difficult to accomplish. I was finally able to bring my knees to my chest and I literally felt like a pinball being pushed from one rock to another – my helmet hit hard things. The dark green black changed to a light blue – the surface! Then it went dark green again.
I needed air. The water had pushed whatever I had in my lungs out, I had nothing left. I thought, ‘this is how it ends’. I experienced life flashing before my eyes.
Surface… please! I gasped just before I broke through, gulping in air and water at the same time. I was still moving at a fast pace and not in control at all. The pounding in my ears got less and the voices yelling at me got louder. I recognised the signals and started swimming towards the raft.
I grabbed the side of the raft and Mr Enthusiasm pulled me towards him on the rocks where they’d been waiting for me. He spoke calming words (I think they were for him as well as me) and I held onto him for dear life, all my senses slowly returning to normality.
It felt an age before my breathing was under control and water stopped coming out of my mouth. We got back into the rafts.
The rest of the trip was robotic. My daughter still had a huge grin on her face, claiming she was so glad she got thrown out, it made the experience even better!
It was finally time to get out of the raft. I was helped to the side while everyone else got the paddles and rafts out of the water. Mr Enthusiasm walked with me ahead of everyone else and told his version of events.
“I got the boat to the side and realised not everyone made it. Your daughter popped up after three seconds with a really big grin on her face. Five seconds and the other guide popped up. I was still counting. Then I thought maybe you were holding on to the side of the raft and checked around.”
He asked a few questions and looked shocked when he realised I’d been hitting the rocks. He explained I’d been stuck under the water fall. The look on his face said it all. It had been a close call.
Back to the motel.
Changed and ready for the roller skating competition.
I nearly died. But I can’t think about that now. Gotta keep going.
I went on to compete in six events winning five golds and one bronze. I also coached five individuals and one team who came away with three golds and a silver.
My last event was on the Saturday night. I was incredibly tired. Nightmares had prevented me from sleep. The pressure in my sinuses was intense with a headache that wouldn’t quit. I had to carry a hand towel around with me for when the river water decided to randomly make an escape.
Standing with my coach in the marshalling area, we both agreed that whatever I put out there on the floor was the best I could do under the circumstances. And I did do my best, turns out it was still gold worthy. But as soon as I came off the floor, before the scores were announced, I melted. I sobbed into my towel. It was done and I was overwhelmed.
The week following was still sleepless and I muddled through. All the things I thought were important weren’t anymore.
It isn’t that we’re running out of time – that’s a given and you never know when it’s going to end, when it’s time for you to go. It’s not a dramatic change like leaving your job to travel the world. It’s what in front of you right now. It’s making the most of who you are, how far you’ve come, and doing the best possible with what’s right there.
Don’t let yourself slip into ‘My goodness, its June already – half the year is gone!’ Make sure you do something different, memorable, and enjoyable each month, week or day.
Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.