NEWFANE – Beverly S. Blewett isn’t one to shrink from adversity.
She overcame childhood bouts with polio and spinal meningitis to achieve her dream of becoming a physical education teacher.
So when the 86-year-old fell 30 or 40 feet down a steep embankment behind her home Thursday afternoon, tumbling toward the waters of Eighteen Mile Creek, she was able to grab onto a tree limb to break her fall, about halfway down the bank.
Was she frightened?
“I was too busy trying to figure out how to get back up,” she said in a telephone interview from her home Friday.
The accident occurred while Blewett was raking leaves.
“It was bare ground and it was slippery, and my foot slipped,” she said. “I was going down. It was like going down a slide and there was nothing to break my fall.”
She came upon the tree and grabbed for a branch.
“I was thinking if I could grab the limb, I could pull myself up,” Blewett said. “If I’d have missed that one, there were some others farther down.”
After trying for about an hour to use the tree branch to regain her footing, Blewett finally had to surrender to being 86 and started calling for help.
Blewett said: “When I was younger, I used to run up and down that hill for fun. My two children used to go down there all the time. They had secret hiding places there. But at 86, you’re not as flexible.”
Her neighbor, Nancy Albee, heard her cries and called 911.
That led to a rescue by Miller Hose Fire Company, Niagara County sheriff’s deputies and a U.S. Border Patrol officer.
It took about half an hour to get her back up into the backyard of her home on North Main Street, where she has lived for 60 years.
Capt. Scott Lombardo of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, who arrived on the scene at about 1:30 p.m., brought a 50-foot length of rope from his patrol car.
Border Patrol Officer Sal Caccamo, who had been working on a project in Newfane with Lombardo, tied one end of the rope to a large tree near the edge of the embankment and tried to throw the other end to Blewett, but the rope was too light to be thrown that far.
Lombardo reported that he found Blewett’s walking cane and tied it to the rope, which added just enough weight for it to be thrown far enough to reach the woman.
“I was hanging from the branch. My arms were getting tired. If I’d let go with one hand, I would have been lost,” Blewett said. “They tried to get a rope down, but I was afraid to let go of the limb.”
Lombardo shouted instructions to Blewett so she could get the rope around her waist and let go of the branch.
Two volunteer firefighters then made their way down the slope to Blewett. They placed her into a stretcher basket and she was pulled back up to the top.
“I said no, I didn’t want to go to the hospital,” Blewett said. But officials overruled her, and Blewett was flown by Mercy Flight to Erie County Medical Center.
She was released from the emergency room about 7 p.m. Thursday and went home. Her daughter, Roxanne Guy of Middleport, came to the hospital for her.
“She’s very protective,” Blewett said. Her son John lives in Rhode Island.
“I’m feeling fine. They told me I’d have a severe headache and a lot of back pain. I have a very, very mild headache and my back is a little uncomfortable, not really painful,” Blewett said.
Doctors ran numerous tests to make sure the retired teacher and coach was all right.
“My face is a mess. I got all kinds of little cuts,” she said. “But I was wearing a sweatshirt and slacks, so my arms and legs were pretty protected.”
Blewett, who retired in the 1980s after teaching at Newfane for 30 years, coached girls basketball, field hockey, cheerleading and gymnastics.
Last year, she published an autobiography called “Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher.” Blewett estimated that the book has sold about 100 copies at local stores. It’s still available at the History Center of Niagara in Lockport, she said.
Asked if the publicity about her fall might help her sales, Blewett said, “That would be nice.”