Survival: A Gladiator’s Story

May 7, 2012

Last weekend, we took a long weekend trip to Jarabacoa, a town near the mountain region of Dominican Republic. When people think of DR, they think of crystal blue oceans, beachy weather, and all-inclusive resorts. They don’t think of Jarabacoa. The last time we went to Jarabacoa was in September for the trip that all the new foreign hire teachers for Carol Morgan go on. There are tons of amazing micro adventures to check out but I was 9 months pregnant so everything besides lounging was o-u-t. Even so, I was quite content to stay on my rocking chair with my cup of coffee, reading and watching the fur babies explore and wander free.

This time, as we were planning our second trip to Jarabacoa, Husband and I were all for embarking on one of the Rancho Baiguate’s many cool adventures together so we brought along our nanny to take care of le babe while we were out being adventurous.

After a Saturday of relaxing, we woke up Sunday ready to take on the White Water Rafting World of Jarabacoa. I would later find out that they were category three rapids. I had been rafting before (as a kid) in the Delaware that even my mom describes as a big raft sailing over little bumps of water. When I would tell her this story later, she would dramatically reprimand, “Those little waves in the Delaware? That wasn’t really rafting… even your grandmother went with us!” Good point. 

Our boat was made up of Husband and I and a group of five that consisted of three siblings and two of their spouses. They were all physically fit and looked like characters but the most standout was the youngest brother, Gustavo. Gustavo looked more like Gaston then a real person. Although upon, further inspection, he liked like American Gladiator’s Nitro.

We should have known there was trouble when after the introductory set of rapids a few people fell out of their boat, a raft capsized, and four boats crashed into each other after a traffic jam on the same rock. Our boat joked, “And this is only the first wave of rapids?” Gulp. But I wasn’t so nervous with an American Gladiator on the boat because when Gustavo’s wife Kathy, fell out of the boat, he literally reached overboard with one canon arm, grabbed her by the life vest and plucked her out of the water, placing her gently back into the raft in sitting position.

After Kathy, I kept repeating to myself what the guides had said before the trip started, “If you fall out of the raft, stay calm and let the water take you. If you try to fight the water, the water will win.” What in the world… Who could stay calm and let rapids pull them away? It seemed impossible to remain calm I convinced myself that if I fell out, and this was clearly possible, I would try to do just that.

This is what authors call foreshadowing… or prediction, I can never tell those two apart.

We were half way through our journey and finishing another rapid when our raft collided with a Gaston-sized rock. rock. It collided so hard, in fact, that the raft was positioned half way on the rock and halfway in the rapid.

Gladiator Story

If I were feeling funny at that moment I would have screamed that we were stuck between a rock and a hard place. But I wasn’t much in a laughing mood because I was in the half drowning in the river. I quickly  secured myself with the rope and grabbed Husband’s hand. I pulled myself up and quickly realized I was totally stuck on something.

My extensive movie knowledge library mind jumped from action movie to action movie. The scene when you are rooting for everyone in the disaster to come out unharmed but you know somehow always has to die to keep the movie interesting and then the wife says to her husband with the most defeated look, “I’m stuck,” and your heart drops and you think, but they’re so close. Grab her. Don’t give up. Don’t let go. And just as you think that she says, “I can’t. Save yourself,” and let’s him go just before she plumets to her untimely, young, tragic death. Ugh. It is exhausting being this dramatic. 

I wouldn’t go out like that. But what was I stuck on? Is that a leg? It seemed like I was stuck under someone’s leg firmly across my body. I realized that Kathy with her strong gladiator legs was trying to hold me in the boat, to keep me from falling out but instead of keeping me in, it was keeping me down and dragging me down with every passing rush of water. If I held on to Husband I would drown myself under the raging water and Gladiator legs. My best chance was to let go. Damn it.

Splash, gurgle, gurgle, muffled voices yelling, GASP – air, gurgle, gurgle, stay calm, stay calm… at least Rafaella will still have her dad – no – stay calm, stay calm, Ow! Ooh! Rock! stay calm. gurgle, flailing, gurgle, GASP -air, where is the guide? Try to swim. No, stay calm. Oh sh*t… big rooock. OW! 


When I felt a guide on me, I felt safer but the pressure of him holding on to my vest was dragging me down and even this slow water  rapid was impossible to get a handle on.  I knew this because when we began passing other rafts another guide yelled out to mine, “What’s happening?” And my guide yelled back, “The water’s too strong!”

Wait? What?! I looked at the guide. He was obviously a better swimmer and more equipped to handle this… after all, he voluntarily jumped out of the raft to get me, but if this was strong what would happen with the next rapid that was approaching. And because I’m dramatic I threw in a waterfall for good fear measure.

As that rapid was over and we got to Normal Rapid Speed (NRS), I knew it was the only chance we’d get before the next rapid. A risky move that might end brutally for my feet and legs, I dug my legs into what Husband has affectionately labeled “Fred Flinstoning” it.

I slowed us down enough for the guide’s to act quick and catch his footing. He stood up and helped me stand in the fast moving water as we carefully walked towards the side of the river. I rested my body close to a rock to get my balance and as my legs shook from battle wounds and adrenaline, I thanked God that I was safe – bruised up and a little bloody – but safe. We waited for the raft which is far away and for Husband, who I was certain was worried since I had long since been out of his sight. At the very least, I am sure that he thought I would be a babbling, shaking wreck in shambles, crying where I stood, drowning in my fear. But that’s not how he found me.

I stood there with shaky, bruised knees but I stood there. And I stood smiling – which if you know me seems unlikely – but I could smile because I made it. Because I was alive. With no help from Nitro, the American Gladiator, I might add.

Sometimes, it just takes an instant to recognize that you are stronger than you think. That you too are a gladiator.

P.S. A life changing yoga retreat and walking strong

Gladiator Story
(Photos: Help Hand via Pixabay, Rapidsby Tim Pearce)

    1. This was an amazing read, I think all of your writing is amazing, but I do agree this blog is pretty special:) Mucho happy that you are ok, and it was definitely foreshadowing.

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    1. OMG, I love this! Gladiator Jen…perfect Survivor episode! So glad you were ok!

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