A former contestant on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior was saved as floodwaters engulfed her home near Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and she documented the rescue of her family—and their pig and three-legged dog—on Instagram.
Emergency rescue services arrived in a massive truck in front of Lisa Eicher’s home in Conroe, Texas, on the morning of August 28. Her home is raised about 10-feet above ground to protect it from floods from a nearby lake, but the storm caused water to climb to their front steps, and neither Eicher nor her husband, Joey, had anticipated it rising as fast or ferociously as it did.
“It didn’t feel real, it was like a dream, our backyard was a lake and the water was rising quickly up our steps,” Eicher, 33, tells PEOPLE. “I was feeling panicked and I was trying to figure out what the hell we would do.”
Firefighters called out to the family over the sound of the roaring waters, and Eicher and her husband gathered their four children—Sevy, 13, Archie, 13, Ace, 9, and Radko, 3—along with her three-legged dog, Pip, and 80-pound pig, Penny, to prepare them for evacuation.
“I don’t get too panicked ever, but I was definitely nervous for my kids,” Eicher says about watching the rushing water quickly rise further up their steps. “I knew it would be scary for them, so I tried to make it seem like it was something fun, and they followed my lead. We were literally swimming and carrying them, we couldn’t even touch the ground.”
Once the children were safe, a firefighter and Joey teamed up to carry their squealing pig through the water. Another firefighter picked up their three-legged dog and helped him swim to the truck.
The rescuers dropped the family off at a nearby Valero gas station, where Eicher and her children rested on an air mattress while Joey went to reach their car, which he moved to higher ground the night before. As they sat outside the station, a gas attendant offered them Subway sandwiches and iced drinks. Another man offered Eicher $20 to spend on the children, and a homeless couple offered them blankets and waited with them until Joey got back.
“It was crazy to see a number of people who came up to us and offered us help,” Eicher says. “We didn’t have shoes on, some of my kids didn’t have pants on, it was a very scary and vulnerable situation, but having people check up on us lifted our spirits.”
When Joey came back with the car, the family left town for Austin to stay with friends until the water recedes from their neighborhood. The family doesn’t know how much damage the flood caused their home, and there’s no telling when they’ll be back. But they have already shown the resilience to stick together and rebound when duty calls.
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Eicher was one of 120 people who tried out for American Ninja Warrior this season, after her daughter, Ace, suggested she try out. “I was so out of shape, I couldn’t even hang from a bar, let alone do a pull-up,” Eicher recalls. “I just laughed it off.”
But Ace kept insisting, and as time passed, Eicher realized that making it on to the show would get her into shape and help her raise awareness for Down syndrome and adoption (Sevy and Archie both have Down syndrome and were adopted from Bulgaria).
Eicher kick-started her training near the end of 2016 and built a ninja course in the back yard. Thanks to her dedication and support from her family, Either was invited to compete in San Antonio in March 2017. She was disappointed when NBC didn’t choose to run her attempt, but when her daughter asked if she’d try it again next season, Eicher said she would.
“I wanted to show my kids you could do anything you want, even if it seems completely ridiculous,” Eicher says. “If you work hard enough, you can do crazy things you thought were impossible.”