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November 5, 2009

Life experiences helps ISU associate prof to endure deadly situation

When Don Rogers, 53, an associate professor of recreation therapy at Indiana State University, was renting a canoe for a morning at the Myakka River State Park, Fla., in July 2008, he had no way of knowing he was en route to a terrifying adventure that would demonstrate how a man with an extreme vulnerability can survive by drawing on a reservoir of cool self discipline learned over a lifetime.

During a family trip near Bradenton, on a day his wife, Nancy (an associate vice-president of community engagement at ISU), and their two kids planned a beach outing, he decided instead to pursue his love of bass fishing by taking a solo morning outing to Upper Myakka Lake, which he had previously visited but never fished. (Nancy, though silent, was obviously not crazy about the idea, Rogers recalled, because she and the kids had seen the lake’s extreme wildlife hazards on a previous nature tour.)

The night before the fishing trip, his 10-year-old daughter Laura had sternly warned: “Daddy, the alligators at that lake are really big and dangerous!”

Unfazed, Rogers got up early that morning so he could drive to the lake and be on its water by 7. He had long since earned a reputation as a top-notch outdoorsman with wide-ranging interests. One of his former mountain climbing feats had garnered him a congratulatory phone call by none other than President Ronald Reagan. In addition to being a bass fisherman, Rogers has been a scuba diver. He has tandem skydived with a 45-second freefall from 14,500 feet. In 2002, he was one of the people nominated to carry the torch for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics through Terre Haute. His canoeing technique is so skillful that he had formerly instructed others on the slender craft’s usage in Northern Minnesota’s boundary water lakes and whitewater, once surviving a raging electrical storm with a novice canoeist who had been so terrified by the weather conditions that he had collapsed into a fetal position, causing Rogers to have to paddle alone to safety while trying to settle the other man down.

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