I learned that the hard way, after I did some serious physical damage to my foot rests. So I thought I knew how to stop an uncontrolled slide – until the day I nearly slid off a cliff.
It was the day we visited Weeping Rock in Utah’s Zion National Park, where a constant seep of water emerges at the top of a bluff and runs down a flat rock face. My family and I were at Weeping Rock after two days of heavy rain, and the rock was no longer weeping. It was crying buckets. It had turned into a big waterfall. A concrete sidewalk led up to the rock face and slightly behind it. You could actually stand behind the wall of water.
The sidewalk was full of people coming and going. My two teenage sons and I decided to go behind the falls. The way was steep and the pavement was covered with fine grains of sand, causing my wheels to occasionally slip. As it got worse, I told my boys that I’d better go back down while they went on.
After they left, I turned around and started back down. Immediately, my wheels started slipping and the wheelchair began to slide toward the cliff edge. I let go off the joystick, slid toward the edge for another foot and then stopped. It was pretty scary. I decided I would wait there until my sons got back.
When they did, I told one of them to hold onto the chair as we went down until we could reach an area with a gentler slope. My son was big and strong, so I was calm and unworried. It’s amazing how much confidence you can have when you rely on someone you trust.
It’s also amazing how fast you can shift from tranquility to panic. We hadn’t gone 20 feet before my chair began to slip, degenerating into a full-blown slide towards the cliff. I urged my son to stop the chair from sliding. He kept saying he couldn’t because his feet were also slipping. In my mind’s eye, as we approached the cliff edge, I could see myself going over, dragging my brave and noble son with me.
An instant before I screamed, “Let go, and save yourself!”, we stopped. Just like that. One second we were helplessly sliding toward our deaths – and the next we were apparently safe and sound.
I was praising what could only have been divine intervention when I heard my son’s muffled crying behind me. It was obvious he was trying to choke it back so I wouldn’t know he was shaken. My heart welled with sympathy and pride, knowing that although my son had been scared to death, he had been willing to sacrifice himself trying to save me.
Then I was puzzled. The muffled crying did not sound right. Was my wonderful son, who had just saved my life, choking on something? It almost sounded like muffled laughter. I turned around in panic. When he saw me looking at him, it opened the gates to his emotions. He let loose, no longer trying to hold it in.
He started laughing! Laughing so hard he could barely stand up!
When he could finally stop long enough to speak, he said, “The reason you couldn’t stop was because I was pushing you.”
He’s now 25 years old and married. But still grounded.
(Brice Carroll lives in Hot Springs, Arizona, U.S.A.)
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