Woman recounts fall off of cliff, thanks EMT who saved her

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman has quite a tale to tell after she tumbled off a cliff July 4 while running a mountain race in Alaska.

Penny Assman slid about 30 to 40 feet on a steep, rocky slope, then she freefell about 20 feet. Just before she fell, she was almost certain her life was over. So now, she's happy to be alive and thankful for an EMT who was in the right place.

Assman was participating in the Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska.

"I was conscious the whole time," she said, "but I don't remember any of the fall."

She spent six days in the hospital with broken ribs and a lacerated liver. But, the fact that she survived surprises her, her boyfriend, and the woman who stepped up to break her fall.

"Spiritually, there was a lot that happened for me that day," Assman said. "I definitely believe that I was in God's hands that day."

Spiritually, there was a lot that happened for me that day. I definitely believe that I was in God's hands.

–Penny Assman

She says she enjoyed the grueling 3.5 mile race to the top of Mount Marathon and back down. But five minutes from the finish, she took a wrong turn and found herself precariously perched.

"Initially I panicked," she said.

She couldn't see the bottom, and sat down to brace herself.

"The rocks were wet, and immediately I started to slide on my feet," she recalled.

She says, it felt like two minutes, but might have been 20 seconds -- long enough to conclude she would likely die.

"I wasn't scare necessarily of the fact that I wasn't going to make it through the fall. I was scared about how much the fall was going to hurt," she said.

Assman shouted that she was going to fall. An EMT, Autumn Ludwig, was nearby.

"All I heard was, ‘She's falling,' and stepped back and saw a tree move. My first thought was, I've got to stop her," Ludwig said. "She had to be stopped. If she went down and continued to go down the mountain, she wouldn't be here today."

Assman said, "While other people were trying to get out of the way, Autumn committed to making sure that she helped me in that moment."

Assman's boyfriend, Rory McCarthy, saw it all.

"When I saw her go airborne, at that moment I didn't know if she was going to even live," he said.

Assman and McCarthy are both officers in the Utah National Guard. Ludwig was honored this week by their comrades. She was also named Firefighter of the Year in Alaska, a first for a woman.

"I feel very honored by that," she said. "But then again, it was my job. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing."

All of them are enjoying time together this week in Utah. Assman says she's going back next year, determined to finish the race.


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Jed Boal


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