For the fifth time this year tragedy struck on a river near Moab, Utah. On Saturday, July 5, Fraser, Colo.’s Timothy Rau drowned in Skull rapid on the Westwater Canyon section of the Colorado River. It was the second time in as many months that a rafter has perished in the tight-walled river section. An Ohio man died over Memorial Day weekend.
Rau’s accident was perhaps the most heart-wrenching. The 17-year-old suffered from a rare genetic disorder that confined him to a wheelchair, but he refused to let the disease-known as ataxia-telangiectasia-confine him to indoor activities. “You can do anything you want to do. Never give up,” Rau told Denver’s Channel 7 News last year.
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, he learned to downhill ski on a snowbike, climbed mountains and participated in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The Tribune reported that at about 1 p.m., the raft Rau was riding flipped in Class III Funnel Falls and that he swam through Skull rapid, a drop that has claimed a number of river-runners' lives over the years. The entire river sweeps against a wall on river-right then recirculates in a dangerous eddy below that is often referred to as the “Room of Doom.” Rau was reportedly in or under the water for about 15 minutes before a pair of kayakers pulled him from the river and onto a raft where CPR was administered. Another party member paddled out to the Cisco takeout to notify authorities. Rau was pronounced dead at the takeout.
Rau's lack of mobility may have played a part in the accident, but he had never let that lack of mobility hold him back. In a December interview for the Denver Children’s Hospital newsletter, Rau said his physical activities helped him overcome ataxia-telangiectasia, the degenerative disease that took his balance and muscle control: “My success stemmed from keeping active,” he said in the newsletter. Rau was a junior at Middle Park High School in Granby, Colo. Read more about Rau at timothyrau.com.