By Steve Gorman
May 28 (Reuters) - The yoga instructor rescued after 17 days lost in a Hawaii forest reserve recounted on Tuesday sleeping in wild boar dens, trudging shoeless through a rocky stream and dining on plants to survive a "spiritual boot camp" that tested her will to live.
Amanda Eller, 35, seated in a wheelchair outside a Maui hospital flanked by her parents, recalled her ordeal at a news conference four days after a helicopter search team found her alive but sun-burned, malnourished and barely able to walk at the bottom of a ravine.
Eller, who also works as a physical therapist, was reported missing on May 9, a day after she went for what she thought would be a 3-mile hike in Maui's Makawao Forest Reserve, only to lose her way in the dense jungle.
She recalled lying down on a fallen tree to close her eyes and meditate, then becoming disoriented as she resumed her hike, unsure which direction led back to her car.
By the time she was rescued, she had badly injured a knee in a 20-foot tumble down an embankment and suffered cuts and gashes to her ankles, which grew severely swollen and infected. Her shoes were swept away in a flash flood the day after her fall.
Rescuers in a helicopter hired by her family ultimately spotted Eller near a waterfall on Friday, miles from where she had parked her car. She was airlifted to a hospital for medical treatment.
She acknowledged feeling despair at times, especially when helicopters flew over the forest without spotting her as she frantically waved her arms to draw their attention. That happened about 20 times, she recalled, adding "I felt invisible."
MEDITATED TO KEEP CALM
Eller said she used meditation to calm herself and gained strength from what she described as a "very loud clear message" internally urging her on.
"You can either sit on that rock and you can die, and you could say, 'mercy,' and you could feel pitiful for yourself and play victim, or you can start walking down that waterfall and choose life," she recounted.
Eller said the experience was transformative, and described it as a "spiritual boot camp."
"The whole journey was extremely spiritual for me," she said. "It was an opportunity to be stripped away of all the comforts of the modern world and see what was left, there was such amazing beauty in that."
Her greatest physical challenges included keeping warm at night, moving about after becoming injured and finding nourishment from plants, some of which she recognized as safe to eat from a book she had read on the subject.
At night she would sleep in patches of tall grass, or on large rocks. On occasion, she slept in the abandoned dens of wild boars that roam the forest.
Eller said she looks forward to returning to work as soon as possible and expects to be off crutches in about two weeks.
Asked what she might do differently on her next outing into the woods, Eller acknowledged she had not been well-prepared for such a hike and that it had been foolish not to take her cell phone with her. "That was ignorant," she said. (Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant)
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