Summer Tour 2001 Update:  

The Whitewater Accident


     August 7, 2001: Ft. Collins, Colorado:  It was a cool August morning.  The CAJE (Conference for Alternatives in Jewish Education) was off to a great start - Shabbat had been wonderful.  Robbi was exhausted and elated after a pretty major summer tour and 2 straight hours of Beatles music at a kumsitz the night before with Mah Tovu and Yom Hadash. Somehow, Sam Glaser had convinced Robbi and many other Jewish musicians and friends to take a whitewater rafting trip down the Cache de la Poudre ("Pooder") River.  It had raining the night before and the river was up 5 inches.  

     We all staggered out of bed, (6:00 a.m.!!) made it to the whitewater company's headquarters, signed our releases, put on our helmets and life jackets and bused on up the Poudre Canyon. On the way up, the guides all scared us half to death with possible scenarios and "what ifs."  

    The water was COLD!  I specifically asked the guide to place me on a part of the raft that doesn't get splashed much.  I HATE cold water! I was in the back right side, right behind Bruce Burger (Rebbe Soul).  It was gorgeous morning and we started off.  

     About 15 minutes into the 1.5 hour trip, we hit a Class 4 (of  5) rapid and I was somehow tossed into the water. Those of you who have rafted (this was my 5th time - same river) know that the boulders and rocks that you float over undulate underneath you. I must have  been undulated out. Now normally, that's not a big deal, as the jackets are so buoyant people rarely go under. But since I never do anything half-tushed,I became stuck under the raft, with 5 people on top of me and trapped in the rocks.  Forgetting almost everything we heard in the bus on the way up, I panicked. I felt my lungs filling with water and I had two thoughts:  I'm going to die today, in a place I love (Colorado).  The other was that I wasn't going to be able to say goodbye to my family, who were in Estes Park, about an hour away. I don't remember anything after that until I was in the raft again, except I saw a bright, yellow light under the water.  It was warm and I knew I needed to get to it. The sun was not out. (insert "Twilight Zone" theme here...)

    I learned the whole story later.  The guide didn't see me heading downstream, which usually happens when someone is tossed, since I was trapped underneath.  Someone recognized that my helmeted head was poking up through the bottom and the 180lb. guide jumped with all his might on top of my head to buoy me to the bottom, so I would pop back up and push the raft aside, which is exactly what happened. He pulled me in, and I Heimliched myself coming over the side of the raft. I had been under 3.5 minutes - at 4 minutes, brain damage can occur.

   Unfortunately, I had to finish the rest of the trip (you can't just "pull over" in rapids).  I kept noticing that my left knee REALLY hurt and I stuck out the next hour.  I went to the hospital in an ambulance, accompanied by Dr. Steve Zimmerman, a fellow rafter, a chiropractor and angel from South Carolina, who started adjusting me the moment he could.  I attribute my lack of pain from the guide jumping on my head to Steve's quick thinking and capable hands,  and am grateful that he gave so much time to my recovery at CAJE. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, I was sobbing that I had a sound check at 5:00 and three performances that night, including one I was hosting.  The wonderful EMS technicians let me know gently that I was going to be "grounded" for awhile.  

    My knee was killing me, but they were more concerned about my collapsing lungs, because of the intake of water, and they x-rayed both the knee and my lungs.  I was put on a 48-hour watch because of the lungs and my dear, wonderful friend from Fullerton, CA, Miriam Van Raalte, became my personal slave and didn't leave my side the entire time. She even had someone cover for her if she wanted to shower or use the bathroom!  My family got word and were there that evening.

   The rest is a blur - I laid low in the mountains with my family, had a miserable plane ride home with cast & crutches, and found out I had severed my ACL ligament (known as a football or skiing injury, depending on whether you're in Colorado or Texas...) and bruised, strained, folded, spindled or mutilated every other ligament, muscle or piece of cartilage in that knee. I also had many post-traumatic stress moments, nightmares and flashbacks, but had great support and for the most part was in  REALLY good spirits. 

   I realized there will be some changes in my life : My ACL is gone forever -  I'm off the Olympic Skiing Team for awhile and the Dallas Cowboys will have to go on without me. I've made it through the High Holidays and look forward to getting back on the road. Bright yellow has become my "signature" color, as I struggle to understand what it meant to almost "cross over" to the other side. God and I have had some serious talks in the last couple of months.

    Right after I was pulled from the water, I saw Sam Glaser's face looking down at me.  "Sam," I said, "God pulled me out of the water today."  Sam paused, and smiled and said: "She threw you IN the water today, too. Think about that!"

   I can't begin to tell you how wonderful both the CAJE and Austin communities have been, and I am grateful for all the notes, meals and misheberachim you prayed on my behalf. Thank you for continuing to support me and the music, in sickness and in health, and I look forward to many more years of music and many, many more hugs!

Love, Robbi
Austin, TX
October, 2001

This is a song I wrote about my experience. As of yet, it has not been published.

Cast into the Water
Robbi Sherwin

A cool, August morning, after a sweet summer rain
We were searching for a Rocky Mountain high
The canyon beckoned us like a lover long lost
The River a silver gleam in God's eye
It had been a long, hot summer
No time at home at all
Airports, bad food, but singing proud
Now here with all my chevra, I breathed the fresh, cool, air
The River's melody was quite loud

Cast into the water from my head above the clouds
Seeking, ever craving, the screaming of the crowds
Cast into the water, no goodbyes from me to you
God pulled me from the water
She threw me in there, too

The sun was not reflecting
The boulders gray and cool
Singing, laughing, playing we started in
Trying to reconcile the insanity of my days
But with another bump, I was over my head again

Cast into the water from my head above the clouds
Seeking, ever craving, the screaming of the crowds
Cast into the water, no goodbyes from me to you
God pulled me from the water
She threw me in there, too

Swirling, churning, my lungs are burning
My body's yearning to break free
For my son and my daughters 
I will fight these white waters
Tell me, what does this mean?

Cast into the water from my head above the clouds
Seeking, ever craving, the screaming of the crowds
Cast into the water, no goodbyes from me to you
God pulled me from the water
She threw me in there, too




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