Brittany Fisher, 21, was visiting St. George for spring break. St. George Police Captain James Van Fleet said dispatchers received a call for help at 3:09AM from Fisher’s local male rappelling partner.
The pair had been rappelling in the Cougar Cliffs of the Red Rocks Desert just north of St. George. The cliffs are 80 to 100 feet in height, and they are a popular destination for rappelling, Van Fleet said.
The unidentified caller said he believed Fisher fell 50 or 60 feet.
Van Fleet said it appears Fisher was unable to control her descent. She was letting rope out with one gloved hand and she released, which caused her to descend faster, he said. She grabbed the rope with her other hand, but when it started to burn, she let go and fell to the bottom.
Washington County Search and Rescue was called to get her out of the Cougar Cliffs area. They hiked into the area, located her and took her to an location where a Life Flight helicopter could land.
Fisher was transported to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, where she underwent surgery.
According to her brother Braden Fisher, also a student at USU, Brittany has a serious spinal cord injury that has left her with only some sensation in her toes and no feeling in her legs, but doctors are optimistic that will return in time, he said.
She had a rod placed in one leg during surgery Tuesday, as well as some pins placed in her right foot, according to Fisher. Her left foot may require some reconstructive work, but it is too early to tell, he said.
The family is grateful Brittany, a three-time letter-winner in distance and hurdles in high school, didn’t suffer a head injury, her brother said.
Braden said Brittany was up and about Thursday morning, in a wheelchair, and he believes she could be moved to a rehabilitation center early next week.
The Fishers are from Naperville, Illinois, near Chicago. She could return there, but the family is also considering a facility in Denver because it is more of an outdoor environment that could be better suited to Brittany.
Brittany is an experienced rappeller, and an early-morning excursion didn’t seem odd or out of character for her, Fisher said.
“She is a go-gettter,” he said. “It is hard to keep her still, and she is always up for an adventure.”
Gregg Gensel, the head coach of USU’s track and field and cross-country teams, has been in Arizona this week in advance of a track meet in Tucson this weekend, so he drove up to Las Vegas to visit Brittany on Thursday.
“As soon as I walked into her hospital room, she flashed that big old Brittany Fisher smile,” he said.
Gensel said Brittany has a long road ahead of her, but she has the right attitude for it. And she is already making goals for her recovery.
“Brittany is very dedicated, and she doesn’t take no for an answer. She is that way as a person and as an athlete,” he said. “She inspires people and she did that as a runner as well," said Gensel.
Brittany was set to run the 3000-meter steeplechase in Tucson this weekend. The junior earned academic all-WAC honors in 2010. USU lists her major as elementary education.