Monday, January 9, 2012

Women I have to admire

 The Question:

So, which do you think is the gutsier woman: an 18-year-old widow and mother who shoots and kills an armed intruder to protect herself and her baby; or a 22-year-old bungee jumper whose bungee cord breaks at the bottom of a 365-foot fall, who swims through the raging rapids to save herself, with a broken collarbone, stopping occasionally to dive underwater to untangle the cord that's still wrapped around her ankles from submerged rocks and stuff?

First, The Widow With a Gun:

On New Year's Eve, 2011, 18-year-old Sarah McKinley, of Blanchard, Oklahoma, was alone in her house with her three-month-old baby, trying to get on with her life after losing her husband to lung cancer just a week earlier, on Christmas Eve. Justin Martin, 24, had been stalking her, and that day he and an accomplice decided to break into her house. Some reports say that he was after her late husband's pain medication, and other reports say that he intended to harm Sarah and her baby. Sarah called 911 to ask for help, and the 911 operator stayed on the phone with her - but the intruder was moving faster than the sheriffs were.

Sarah asked the operator, "Is it okay if I shoot him if he comes in the door?" The operator replied, "You do what you have to do to protect your baby."

So when Martin finally got into the house (it took him 21 minutes, according to the 911 transcript), armed with a 12-inch hunting knife, Sarah pointed a 12-gauge shotgun at him, pulled the trigger once, and shot him dead.  According to some reports, the accomplice ran away at the sound of the shotgun blast, later turned himself into police, and verified that he and Martin had gone to the house with the intention of breaking in and hurting Sarah and her baby.

The Grady County Sheriff's department has said that the shooting was justified and that Sarah had no criminal liability in the incident.  On the other hand, Dustin Stewart, the accomplice, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. (It's a quirk in the law about deaths that occur during the commission of a crime.)  Stewart was released on bail four days later, on January 5th. Sarah's home is at the end of a mile-long gravel driveway, and she is worried about Stewart coming out for a return visit. But she still has her two guns, and she says she is "ready, waiting and watching."

None of this is an exaggeration. The news reports and a recording of the 911 call are available on the web.

Now, the Bungee Diver:

Also on New Year's Eve, 22-year-old Erin Langworthy, of Australia, was bungee-jumping from the Victoria Falls Bridge, 111 meters over the Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. As the cord stretched to its limit, it snapped near the top, plunging Erin into the rapids below. The impact knocked her out briefly, and broke her collarbone. "It felt like I had been slapped all over," she said later.

(Bungee jumping may look crazy, but it's normally a safe sport, especially if it's conducted by professionals, as Erin's jump was. But even with professionals, accidents do happen. It's a statistical certainty.)

When she regained consciousness, Erin rescued herself, swimming through the rapids towards the Zimbabwean shore. The current pulled her downriver, repeatedly smashing her into the rocks and sucking her underwater.  Several times, she had to stop and dive underwater to pull the bungee cord (which was still tied to her ankles) free of submerged rocks and debris. When onlookers finally pulled her out, they laid her on her back. She had to tell them to roll her onto her side - so that she could cough water and blood out of her lungs and breathe again.

In a bit of Africa-centric sensationalism, all of the news reports call the river "crocodile-infested." I say "eh." None of the witnesses reported seeing any crocs. But it does make Erin sound even gutsier.

Erin spent a week in a hospital in Zimbabwe before being released. Miraculously, she suffered nothing more than the broken collarbone and an awful lot of bruises. And none of this is an exaggeration. Safari Par Excellence recorded the whole thing, and Erin talks about the experience and shows her bruises on news reports. Both videos are available on the Web.

So, What Do You Think?

Personally, I think they're both pretty gutsy women. They both show a lot of courage. Their situations are different: one, a young mother at home, going up against armed and dangerous intruders; the other, a thrill-seeking tourist who suddenly finds everything going wrong. But their reactions are the same: in grave danger, they reach down inside themselves and find what it takes to save their own lives.

I could give Sarah McKinley the edge, because she also saved her baby's life - and even as an 18-year-old widow, she wasn't willing to sit there and be a passive victim. Something needed to be done, it was difficult, it was immediate, and she stood up and did it. But I could also give Erin the edge, because she was putting herself way out there (pardon the pun). She piled all her chips on the square marked "my life", spun the wheel, and walked away with the jackpot.

I can't decide. I'll honor them both.

Small correction:  In the introduction, I had originally said "111-foot fall".  It was actually a 365-foot fall - a little over 111 metres. I had the correct distance in the body of the article. But even a 111-foot fall would have made for a good story.

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