A “Rocky” Easter

Rockwell Dam during its construction more than 100 years ago.

The Rockwell Dam. Back in the day, families used to walk up to the dam and fish in it freely! Now, Lake Rockwell and the land surrounding it, is bordered by barbed wire fences and thermal cameras. The Rockwell Dam is below the lake and turns into the Cuyahoga river (which flows through Kent). For those that don’t know, Lake Rockwell serves as the city of Akron’s water supply. There is posted signs down river from the dam saying the area is off-limits to boaters, and obviously pedestrians walking. Years ago, the official ODNR website did not have this section off limits to boaters. More recently they have stated it is. However, under federal law, the water below the dam has become a “navigable body of water”. In other words, no one, not even the city of Akron (Who owns Lake Rockwell) can own the Cuyahoga river unless it is dammed and the bottom of the body of water is fully on their land. This does mean that they own the land surrounding the dam waters and the river bed below the water. So, as long as anyone is boating and does not go on land or dock their boat, they are legal. With that being said, the water treatment plant still does not like people being there…

Over the years, my friends and I have had a significant amount of luck fishing there. The water is teeming with fish at times. We’ve caught Northern pike, largemouth bass. smallmouth bass, perch, white bass, and even some of the fattest channel catfish I’ve ever seen.


On Easter morning 4/21/19, Shane and I decided to take a trip to the dam. The water was flowing fast and high that day. The water was a bitter 50 degrees F. Normal kayak trips on the Cuyahoga are usually good around 300 cfs (rate of water flow) and that day, it was around 1300 cfs. This was not ideal for a calm morning of fishing. Shane and I approached the dam in our kayaks and began fishing. The water was rough and also very murky/muddy. We weren’t having a whole lot of luck until Shane hooked into a smaller sized pike. Not long after that, I noticed Shane had gotten a snag near the right side of the dam. Most of the dam is a “spillway” style dam but the right side has a large pump-house that runs water through it and pumped out below. It used to be used to generate electricity.

Me 5 years ago fishing right in front of the pump-house (low water conditions)

Shane’s snag happened right in front of this pump-house. The water was so high that you could not see the dark caverns seen in the picture above. The water was “boiling” right in front of the pump-house. I remember looking over to Shane and noticing he had a snag. I went back to fishing as I normally do when someone gets a snag. I figured he would be able to get it out. Then the thought was weighing on me for some reason, “You should go see if Shane needs help”. I really believe this was the Lord giving me instruction as you will see. I paddled over to Shane to see what was up. He was badly snagged on something and it looked like he would need to break off the line. The next part happened very quickly. I remember Shane’s kayak starting to get very close to the boil near the pump-house. At one point I yelled “Put the pole down, BACK-OUT!” It was too late. I watched helplessly as one of my best friend’s kayak capsized. 2 seconds later, I saw Shane frantically try to grab the kayak, attempt to swim out of the current, and then get sucked underwater into the pump-house. It was the scariest moment of my life and the very image is haunting to me. I gave a shrill scream, “SHANE!!!

I remember for a second, I froze. It put me in shock. I remember just yelling “NO NO NO NO NO!!”. I don’t remember what all went through my head next, but I remember thinking, “If I don’t do something, Shane will drown”. I paddled up to the dam and was able to remain stable for a bit. I took my fishing pole and shoved it in the water to try to feel around for Shane. I put my hands underwater trying to grab something. Then, in the blink of an eye, my kayak turned, got caught in the boil, and capsized. I went under the water briefly and immediately grabbed for my kayak. By the grace of God, my kayak has drain holes. I was able to put two fingers in one of the holes and prop myself between the kayak and the dam with my other arm and leg. The current was sucking my right leg under the pump-house. It was a nightmare.

Diagram of the pump-house

At this point, some time had passed and I thought Shane was probably dead. I also thought I was going to die. I cried out for help. I was yelling, “GOD HELP ME!” I remember looking over to my kayak to see if I could get on top of the bottom of it. Then I looked back toward the dam and I saw two shoes submerged under-water “hooked” onto the outer lip of the pump-house wall. It was Shane. In a swift movement, I grabbed his shoe with my left hand, leaned on my kayak, and pulled. Shane popped up on my side of the wall. I put my forearm against his chest and held him to the wall. He looked like he had seen a ghost and I’m sure I did as well. I told Shane we had to get shore quickly. The water was extremely cold and we needed to get away from the boiling water. I ended up throwing shane forward with my left hand and he was able to swim out of the current. Then it was my turn. I took a sideways jump off of the dam to try and get out of the current but I ended up getting sucked back toward the dam so I grabbed my kayak again. Then i crawled/swam up the side of my kayak and grabbed a cement ledge and lunged off that toward shore. Shane and I had about 30′ of water to swim to shore. It was the longest and hardest swim of my life. I remember going underwater at times because I could barely stay up. I was exhausted. My legs were kicking so hard that my left boot fell off in the water.

We both finally made it to shore. I was in shock and crying. Shane was saying, “THANK YOU GOD!” I felt a rush of emotion and gratefulness. All the people’s faces that I love were flying in my head. God saved our asses for sure. I ended up dialing 911 becuase I could barely breath and I didn’t know what kind of condition we were actually in. Both of our heads were on fire with pain. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. The cops were able to find us on the side of a road and then the EMTs came soon after that. They got us warm and took us to the emergency room to be evaluated for hypothermia and water in our lungs. Thank God, we only came out of it with some small cuts and bruises once we were warm.

Shane and I both agree that our lives were saved by the Lord. We were stuck in what they call a “drowning machine”. Parts of rivers like this take the lives of people all across the U.S. The Lord decided to intervene that day and give us the strength, timing, and quick thinking to get out. Things could have gone much worse than they did. This week has been very weird. Since the event I have struggled with restless sleep, nightmares, and traumatic flashbacks making it hard to focus at work. At the same time, I feel the presence of the Lord and his power in our lives.

I’m still digesting a lot of my thoughts on the event. Some of them are hard to vocalize to be honest. One thought I have is that, I don’t think I live my life with a healthy fear (respect) for God, day to day. I go about my days thinking about what Jordan’s plans are. I like control and I like to have a say where my life is heading next. On Sunday, I was completely out of control. I faced the realization that life is very fragile, it can be ended quickly, and sometimes, we have no control over that fact. God was so gracious, and he showed Shane and I his power in a real way on Easter Sunday. I have to believe the Lord spared our lives for a good reason. I can’t believe the Lord saved us so that we could live autonomous, selfish lives. I truly believe the Lord will take this near tragedy and use it for good things. I think the Lord is showing me how significant and important relationships are. I often lose sight of that. My prayer for anyone reading this is that, if you know the Lord, don’t disregard what the Lord has given you. Take investing in people seriously and don’t lose heart. You don’t know how long they will be here. If you are reading this and you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I encourage you to investigate him. He wants nothing more than to help you with life. Whether it be relationships, anxiety, not drowning in a river, you name it. God is so loving and he wants good things for you.

One last thing. I’m so grateful for my bro Shane. I’m so excited for his walk with the Lord and to see how the Lord will use him down the road. I’m so grateful the Lord brought us back together as close friends and kept us safe.

To God be the glory!

ONE YEAR LATER:

1 year ago me and Shane OConnell almost lost our lives in the Cuyahoga river. What a year it has been. Shane and I were charged with criminal trespassing (M4), we assume, because we stepped onto Akron property after almost drowning. They never actually gave a bill of particulars because we decided to not go to a full trial. Those cases have been long closed. I don’t want to make this post about the Akron Water supply and how I loathe them. I”ll just say this: I’m grateful that we survived their outdated/unsafe dam that they operate at the base of lake Rockwell in Kent.

They were forced to put a pretty penny into fixing the dam. Unfortunately this was the indirect cause of almost 20 river rescues because they elevated water level to make repairs. (https://www.beaconjournal.com/news/20190625/kent-officials-say-stay-out-of-river-as-akron-floods-cuyahoga-for-dam-repairs?fbclid=IwAR0Ihb278lEnyXszS0-bw9V_qfTEnG9fIy4VS7wBcRr0HetIT2pHZJ793Mo) I hope all of those people are safe. I’ll also say that I am unimpressed with the Akron court system. They pursued us like we had committed murder for fishing at their dam. You wonder why so many kids and young adults stay inside.

Anyways, I’ll never forget that day. It has seriously changed my outlook on life. Jordan Yoerger is most certainly not the invincible mid-twenties man he thought he was. I definitely wear a life jacket whenever I’m on the water! No exceptions! I think we can all fall into the trap of thinking we have life under control and we aren’t at risk of dying. I’ve heard from many young people my age that they just simply aren’t worried about COVID-19 because they are not at risk. While it may be true that the affects may not be as severe, the shear fact that many are dying should arrest us.

Life is so fragile and everyday is such a blessing. The only thing that gave me comfort throughout this painful process of legal issues, lost personal items, lightweight PTSD, etc has been the Lord. He is the first one we were thanking when we got to that shoreline. He is the first one we thanked once we were out of the weeds with the Akron Water Supply. He is such a good God. He is a God of great comfort.

I encourage anyone that may be reading this blog to put your trust in the Living God of the Bible. He wants to give you eternal life after you die and he also wants to give you a great life here on Earth.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
– John 5:24

I’m glad to still be around. I’m looking forward to fishing on the Cuyahoga this year with Sug. I’m looking forward to marrying my gorgeous fiance Beth in September this year. Life is good.

Love,

J


5 thoughts on “A “Rocky” Easter”

  1. The Lord blessed me that day too! I can’t imagine life without you in it or life without Sugar Shane!!! So thankful he helped you guys out of there!

  2. I was with my family Easter Sunday when I saw your dad’s post that this had happened. My dad is a huge fisherman and couldn’t believe that you guys survived. Thank you for sharing, and thank God that He is going to continue to demonstrate His glory through your life and Shane’s! What a miracle.

  3. I’m so glad the Lord saved your lives again! Thanks for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes. This especially rings true:
    “I can’t believe the Lord saved us so that we could live autonomous, selfish lives.”

  4. You have a wonderful way of putting words to paper. Your faith is beautiful and inspiring. This world needs you and your friend in it to inspire people. Your parents raised 2 great sons.

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