DOLORES Sixteen-year-old Nick Martinez stood next to the freezing and fast Dolores River recently, held his breath and jumped.
Downstream, about a dozen of his classmates at Southwest Open School waited as Martinez floated down, with a shocked look on his face. They waited, ropes in hand, for the perfect point, when they could toss their frozen classmate a lifeline.
Once his classmates reeled him in to dry land, Martinez grinned.
That was pretty fun, he said.
Cold, yes, but fun too.
About a dozen students from Southwest Open School flung themselves into the river to practice swift water rescues, part of a class at the school that combines science, geography, river ecology, hydrology, geology, water rescue techniques and adventure.
They have to swim or rescue now. If it ever happens for real, its not their first time, class instructor Matt Robinson said.
Robinson said the class helps bond the class together and teach teamwork.
I think the instructors are really good and my classmates are awesome, Martinez said.
Brook Rule, 19, has taken the class twice.
I love this class, Rule said. It shows everybody how to work as a team. You cant survive on your own.
Rule said she still remembers the final trip for the class down the Grand Canyon, a trip that takes over a week.
It was a lot of fun, she said. But it was scary at first.
Students learned rope techniques, knot-tying techniques and rescue techniques. They learned how to swim across a fast-moving river and into an eddie. They also learned how to cross using a buddy huddle method or a paddle as a contact point.
We cant stress safety enough, Robinson said. Everyone needs to be so safe this time of year around rivers. I just cringe when I see people not wearing life jackets.