Fight for life and vitality | Rosie Mitchell’s story
22nd Jul 2018
Reading Time: 12-15
I have been thinking about this post for a while, months actually. Growing up in Africa was a very different level of exposure to various aspects of life. Most Africans will relate heavily to struggle and hope, and to the idea that each day is filled with new possibilities. I can quite comfortably say that there is no one I have met that would relate to this more than Rosie Mitchell. This post is about her fight for life and vitality. (You’re probably going to need a cup of tea and a seat for this one.)
Rosie Mitchell is a long-time family friend and there are a few things that stand out as good memories of spending time at her house in Zimbabwe. Rosie and her husband at the time, used to have Braai’s at her house, his name was Matthew and his party trick was climbing up the big tree in their garden after a few beers whilst everyone sat underneath. They had a huge garden and lots of room to run and play in, they also had a lot of rocks in the garden and for entertainment my sister and I would be given different coloured candles to melt onto the rocks for art.
That isn’t the reason for this post today. The reason for this post is that over the last 10 years Rosie has become an ultra-marathon runner, and a super inspirational person. Her interest in running was peaked after she was doing some research into ways of fighting depression after suffering from a brain tumour in 2002. Rosie had been through brain surgery to remove the tumour and during the rehab she suffered some low points; she would often take walks out in the Zimbabwean bush and one day she started running and has never looked back. To date Rosie has amassed some serious mileage on the roads, completing the Comrades marathon (90km race) in South Africa multiple times along with other 56km races and high-altitude marathons.
“I went online to look at all the ways I could tackle depression, on top of the usual medication, psychotherapy etc, and found running recommended highly. I had always been very physically active, hiking, cycling, swimming and so forth, but I had not done any running since junior school!”
2018 has probably been the most challenging for Rosie yet. On 30 December 2017, Rosie went kayaking on a dam in the Matobo National Park (Zimbabwe) with a close friend, John, in the boat and close friends and family on shore.
They were enjoying the beauty that is Africa and soaking up as much of the day as they could. The beauty of Africa is something that will burn itself into your memory, especially if you have seen the true bush and heard the stillness in the air. Being in the middle of nowhere in Africa is something truly peaceful and always reminds me that life is meant for living and embracing the true beauty in the world.
Rosie and John were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time that day, the African wilderness decided to throw them a curve ball. Out of nowhere the boat got whacked by something very large. Seconds later a crocodile launched itself out of the water and went straight for Rosie. All the beauty and stillness of the African wilderness evaporated and in seconds, she was faced with the jaws of death. You can imagine the horror and panic as the crocodile sunk its teeth into her body.
Rosie’s words will do this far more justice than my writing can;
“In total shock, and imagining that there was no other outcome than imminent death, out loud I said, ‘I am not ready to die. I have too much left to do’.
I began to think how I might survive this impossible situation. Desperately, I tried prizing the croc’s jaws open with my hands. I tried poking its eyes with my fingers. I scarcely made any impression. It was a big croc – probably 2.5 to 3 metres long.
Rapidly, my left wrist was crushed, my left breast almost bitten off, and I had a huge wound in my left thigh. The croc leapt out of the water at me and it bit. I felt no pain. I had one thought. How to survive…
I have no recollection of how it was that in spite of the crocodile swallowing my right arm up to the elbow, and in spite of my crushed left hand and wrist, and in spite of the fact we could only straddle our boat with our bodies as if it were a raft, somehow, I found myself pulling through the water. We were half on the boat with the crocodile attached to me and in fact, it was, rather bizarrely swimming as well.
Thus, the three of us and the boat slowly headed towards the shore. John was also lying across the boat and paddling and pulling as best he could, and very gradually the shore got closer.
As all this went on, I stared the crocodile right in the eyes, which were close to my face. I could feel its tongue and throat with my fingers. Little by little, its grip on my arm kept tightening. It was a horrifying scenario, but I kept my hope that we might make it, and I kept saying to the crocodile out loud, ‘Please don’t eat me, please let me live’.
Soon the situation looked even worse. I spotted another crocodile following us. It was quite close already.I fully expected to lose my right arm, even if I did survive. I rationalised to myself, at least I’ll be alive, at least I’ll be able to walk and run.”
One stroke after another and full of adrenalin Rosie and John edged closer and closer to the shoreline, arriving at some rocks just out of the water, 10 or so metres from dry land. This area being a real danger zone as crocodiles prefer to drown their prey in the shallows. The croc pulled Rosie under the water and started to drown her.
As soon as the attack began Rosie’s partner Sarah had jumped in her car and made a mad dash on the dirt roads to find the park rangers, not knowing if she would ever see Rosie or John again. The battle on the water lasted about an hour with rangers arriving in time to aid with rifles from the shore.
“Desperately struggling, I was beginning to inhale water when suddenly, presumably due to the shots being fired in the air, it literally spat out my arm. It did not bite it off – the far more likely scenario. What an absolute miracle! John was alive, and talking to me, and on a rock. I thought the nightmare might now be over.”
With incredible presence of mind, Sarah had not only got the Rangers there just in the nick of time but had also, after finding them and going with them to fetch their weapons, left them to rush to the dam in their own Land Rover and continued up to the main road to Bulawayo, to find cell phone signal and call ambulances and our health insurers Health International. She even managed to stop a passing vehicle and ask them to make a diversion and to send more help from Camp Amalinda, one of the nearby private lodges in the park. They came and were a very great help indeed.”
Eventually Rosie made it onto dry ground, her dear friend John unfortunately did not survive the attack.
Rosie was rushed into hospital In Bulawayo and, having lost a life-threatening amount of blood was in hypovolaemic shock, close to total organ failure and facing more of a struggle. 66 lacerations and injuries, various broken bones, antibiotics, morphine, multiple surgeries and touch and go moments resulted in Rosie pulling through.
Whilst this is a cautionary tale to those who want to kayak in foreign waters, it must be said that is not normal behaviour for a crocodile to attack a boat, canoe or kayak.
Rosie and I have been in communication about the experience and whilst she was in recovery countless WhatsApp messages kept everyone aware of what her status was. The true nature of her injuries, both mental and physical are very difficult to describe in a single blog post, that said, the nature of her accomplishments up to the point of the attack are truly amazing. To be an ultra-marathon runner at 58 years of age and still training for more is inspiring. To survive a crocodile attack, the loss of a dear friend and still have the bounce and drive to achieve even more is a testament to her grit.
Some might view her story as horrifying, others see a cautionary tale, I see her story as one of hope. Despite all the odds being heavily stacked against her with a tumour, then depression and a subsequent crocodile attack she is still fighting to be the strongest and best version of herself.
From her first steps back into health around the hospital to her recent 15km bush runs and her fitness level increasing each week, she is bounding towards the fittest and strongest person she can be.
Rehab and the support network of nurses, family friends and her partner Sarah have all been instrumental in her speedy recovery. The true strength through this all has to be down to an attitude of grit and determination. Rosie is currently setting her sights on the Leadville 100-mile race in 2019 in America where she will run the race in memory of her dear friend John Bowman. I will keep the blog updated on her progress.
With that all being said, if there is anything you can take from this post today it is that no matter the obstacle big or small you always have a chance at vitality and life. You always have a chance to push through the toughest circumstances because we are resilient creatures, as Rosie has demonstrated. I hope you’ll extend my heartfelt thanks to Rosie for sharing her brave story with the world and showing us that we must never give up! We must strive to be the best, strongest and most awesome people we can be. We must strive to be like Rosie!
I’ll catch you in the next blog post.
Stay Strong and Keep Moving!
P.S. Check out Rosie’s Photos here: