Schwarzenegger: Out-of-control sled hit Barbara Bush

In an interview with Jake Tapper, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger remembers President George H.W. Bush... including a story about a runaway sled

Posted: Dec 3, 2018 6:40 PM
Updated: Dec 3, 2018 7:00 PM

Arnold Schwarzenegger's reminiscences about his time with former President George H.W. Bush have given rise to a mystery surrounding a sledding excursion at Camp David in which first lady Barbara Bush broke her leg.

What really happened that day in 1991 to cause Mrs. Bush's injury?

In an interview Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," anchor Jake Tapper asked Schwarzenegger about a photo of him and the 41st president on a toboggan at the presidential retreat, and the actor and former California governor recounted things this way: "It was snowing up there, and we had this toboggan, and (Bush) was trying to teach me how to slide that because I was only used to sledding down with Austrian sleds, which you direct kind of with your feet. And so we went down totally out of control, and of course we crashed into Barbara Bush, who broke her leg then after that. So that's why he sent me this picture."

The caption of the photo, written by Bush, reads, "Arnold -- Turn, damn it, Turn!!"

But in 1991, The Washington Post and The New York Times both reported that the first lady broke her leg when she hit a tree after she slid down an icy hill on a saucer sled. Both newspapers reported Schwarzenegger, who was at the time chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, was present.

Barbara Bush's press secretary at the time, Anna Perez, told the Post and the Times that the President yelled, "Bail out! Bail out!" when he saw Barbara Bush going down the hill. "She doesn't know why she didn't bail out. She just held on and the next thing she knew, there was the tree," Perez told the newspapers.

Schwarzenegger wrote about the incident in his memoir, "Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story."

"The president and I came down the hill too fast and crashed into Barbara, and she ended up in the hospital with a broken leg," he said on page 397. "I still have the photo President Bush sent me afterward."

Later on Sunday, "CNN Newsroom" anchor Fredricka Whitfield asked Bush's son, Neil Bush, to clarify Schwarzenegger's comments and provide his own recollection of the order events.

"About the whole notion of the crash and your, you know, mom breaking her leg, so is he saying that he led to the breaking of your mom's leg, or did she break her leg in a different way?" Whitfield asked. "'Cause there are different stories out there. What's your -- what do you recall?"

"Well, she broke the leg running into a — I wasn't there, but she broke the leg running into a tree," he said.

CNN has reached out to Schwarzenegger for clarification, but he was in Europe and did not respond on Sunday night.

The actor and seven-time Mr. Olympia winner fondly remembered his experiences with the former president at Camp David and elsewhere in his interview Sunday morning.

"We had really a great time up there at Camp David," he told Tapper. "And like I said, it was a great learning experience, you know, hanging out around him. He was kind of like a mentor and kind of like a father figure at the same time."

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