Spring, 1984. The Birmingham FBI SWAT team joined teams from around the southeast to spend a week shooting rapids on the Chattooga River in northwest Georgia, the river where the movie “Deliverance” was filmed. Think banjos and ….never mind. This was my first experience in rapids. My SWAT partner was Ashley Curry, who would one day be elected mayor of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and who had no rapids experience either.
Ashley and I were first paired in a canoe, then later in rafts that held six agents for the class 4 rapids.
I did not wear my glasses, fearing I might lose them in the river. We agreed that I would be seated in the front of the canoe, Ashley steering with his paddle in the back.
Ashley and I paddled our way through the first sets of uncomplicated rapids, gaining confidence and bravado. After lunch we were cruising and cocky when I heard a roar up ahead that grew louder by the second. Squinting, I hollered back to Ashley, “I hear something.”
“What is it?” he shouted. “Sounds like a falls,” I yelled.
I did not hear Ashley’s reply as our canoe suddenly went over a screaming water fall and dropped 10 feet into the river. Ashley and I were thrown out of the canoe into the cold water. I experienced loss of control of my body in water for the first time in my life. I fought to gain a foothold to stop my rush into oblivion. I grabbed a large rock and held on for life, seeing through my myopically blurred eyes the future major of Vestavia Hills swiftly spin by me down the rapids choked Chattooga River.