For months, Nancy Stevens, a popular blind athlete from Bend, had been looking forward to her father’s visit from Jackson, Wyoming. She wanted to share the outdoors of Central Oregon and the things she loved to do.
On Thursday afternoon, Stevens and her father — 84-year-old Ronald Stevens — went to a spot along the Deschutes River just above Dillon Falls, about 4.5 miles upstream from Bend. The two of them planned to canoe in the calm waters upstream from the falls.
But as they started out about 3:15 p.m., father and daughter lost control of their canoe, and it tipped over. Each of them was wearing a life jacket, and for a moment, Nancy Stevens could feel her father beside her as she tried to hold onto him. Then, they were swept over the falls.
“When we fell out of the canoe, I tried to hold on to my father, but we were separated in the current,” Nancy Stevens said in a statement sent to The Bulletin. “Once I reached the falls, I just began tumbling and tumbling, and I couldn’t stop.”
Ronald Stevens was killed in the incident, the victim of an apparent drowning. Nancy Stevens, 57, suffered a dislocated right shoulder, bruises and abrasions on her legs and a bruised rib.
“After I dislocated my shoulder, I couldn’t use that arm to help me swim,” Nancy Stevens said. “It was so scary. It seemed like I was in the water a long time. I kept saying to myself I have to find the weeds. The weeds helped me find shallower water, and then people in the river came to my aid.”
Nancy and Ronald Stevens were brought to shore at the Aspen Camp area by kayakers. Nancy Stevens was taken by ambulance to St. Charles Bend and was released Friday. Despite CPR efforts by hikers in the area and arriving emergency personnel, Ronald Stevens was pronounced dead at the scene.
“My dad was a very kind and giving person,” Nancy Stevens said. “I am so heartbroken. I am so sad. I wish there was something I could have done to help him. My feelings are beyond words.”
Nancy Stevens, known as the first blind woman to scale the 13,770-foot Grand Teton, has been a regular Pole Pedal Paddle racer since 2013. She competed in it this year. She also competed as a cross-country skier in the 1998 Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan.
Her friend, Jameson O’Neal, of Bend, spoke with Nancy Stevens at the hospital and after she got home.
“She is suffering a terrible grief,” he said. “She is coping with the aftermath of a traumatic event. A horrifying event.”
O’Neal said Stevens has a large network of Central Oregon friends who are coming together to help her through the crisis.
“She is banking on us to see her through this,” he said.
O’Neal said there are many details of the incident his friend doesn’t know — it happened too fast.
“She wants the truth,” he said. “She wants to know exactly what happened. But we don’t know if we will ever know all of it.”
Nancy Stevens said she was grateful for the help she received on the river, especially from the female kayaker who helped her to shore. But Stevens only knows the kayaker’s first name: Kim.
“The outpouring of love and kindness has been amazing,” Stevens said.
“I don’t know how I would get through this without so much support from the community.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0348, firstname.lastname@example.org