My body just gave up

Going over

Going over


I almost drowned this past Saturday and the scariest part was that the struggle my body put into surviving was awfully lackluster.

We were rafting in the Zambezi river, starting just at the bottom of Victoria Falls at a spot called the Boiling Pot. I had been there before with friends, saw the massive whirlpool that forms there, and thought it was nothing short of certain death. Now, with the river water levels having dropped just a smidge, it was our launching point.

It was at rapid number 6 (or maybe it was 7; it’s all a bit blurry) that our raft flipped. I lost grip of the safety rope, and was swallowed up by the churning waves of a Class 5 rapid.

Everything was blue and green. I felt completely helpless, just a limp object swept along and under by more and more water. If felt like I’d never come up, but then I saw it, that whiteness of water that means you’re at the surface. I popped up, but then sucked right back under—I had only enough time to cough out water, but not to breathe in air.

It was all blue and green again and it was here I felt my chest tighten, that awful clenching felt when holding your breath too long. I knew I was still far under the waves, that the surface—and air—was high above me, and here’s where it happened: instead of struggling, I relaxed. In a split second I had become resigned to my fate, resigned to being smothered by waves.

This was the feeling that stuck with me the rest of the day and up until now, far after I was hauled in to another crew’s raft, far after I coughed and wheezed up water and said, “I’m fine, I’m fine,” over and over. It’s disconcerting: I just gave up. I didn’t even choose to, my body just relaxed and checked out. It was only the buoyancy of my life-jacket that brought me back.

Though in case this all sounds too worrying and serious I can assure you that the fright of it all was more than drowned out by laughs, and thrills, of fun with friends.


2 Responses to “My body just gave up”

  1. 1 Ben October 6, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Don’t feel too bad Graham, apparently giving up is the normal thing to do. Every kayaking story I’ve heard about people being sucked under in recirculating water ends with me saying “And how did you get out!?” and the answer is always something like “I started to black out so I just relaxed and I popped up”. Is there some kind of metaphorical lesson? I hope not…

  2. 2 Aaron November 13, 2009 at 9:45 am


    Longtime holmes! Sounds like your body knew what to do more than your head. Way back in my surfing days (I think there were between 5 and 7 of them) I was taught that when the wave just keeps pulling you down, there is nothing you can do but relax – it is the only way to conserve the remaining oxygen in your body.
    Struggling wastes air. – that’s been my motto to rationalize bumming around since 2007.

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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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