PORTAGE, Wis. – Ten-year-old Jazmine Peters escaped drowning in the historic Portage Canal by the hair on her head.
Cousin Jeff Gjavenis, also 10, grabbed Jazmine's thick ponytail to keep her head above water after she slid off the Ice Age Trail and into the canal Sunday night.
"My heart was beating really fast, and I was scared to death," Jazmine said.
The accident scene is well known to the family members. Jazmine's mother Terri Benson Reilley grew up with a sister and cousin on the Old Indian Agency House land where her parents have been resident caretakers for decades.
The site is where travelers centuries ago portaged canoes between the Wisconsin and Fox rivers. The same 2 1/2-mile route was followed to build the canal linking the waterways, which opened in the 1870s but was closed in 1951. It's now maintained for its historical value.
Jazmine, Jeff and three other cousins had gone for a walk around 7 p.m. Sunday and went across a bridge to the other side of the canal.
"Jaz was trying to show me the snowmobile bridge (near Highway 33) and she fell on the packed snow and fell in," said 10-year-old Lacey Weirich.
Lacey grabbed Jazmine's hands, and Jeff turned around when he heard her screaming.
He then kept Jazmine's head above water by holding onto her ponytail. Jazmine was up to her chest in the icy water, and she couldn't touch the bottom of the canal with her feet. She also cut her lip and chin upon falling in.
"Jeff yelled for me, and I grabbed the strap on her snow pants," 12-year-old Taylor Weirich said. "I held onto a tree and we were pulling her out."
Other relatives heard the screaming and came to the rescue.
Jazmine wound up in the Divine Savior Healthcare emergency room.
Jazmine took the day off Monday at John Muir Elementary School, so her mother could watch for any signs of pneumonia.
"She's been sticking very close to me and hugging me a lot," Reilley said. "As far as I'm concerned, Taylor and Jeff are my little heroes, and I think they deserve recognition. They saved her life."