Every year on October 30, Cliff Devries of Rochester, New York, makes a trembling climb up the ladder to a 10-foot diving platform. With assistance from his son, Corey Devries, Cliff then plunges into the pool below where several swimmers are waiting to catch him.
Twenty years ago, making this short dive would have been child’s play for the former All-American diver. Cliff had even earned a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, where he successfully dove for one semester before a nagging pain in his shoulder sent him to the doctor’s office. At the time, he assumed it was merely a pinched nerve, just another casualty of being an athlete.
Tragically, Cliff’s shoulder pain turned out to be far worse than a pinched nerve. An MRI showed that the 21-year-old had a tumor about the size and length of a hot dog at the base of his brain stem. Doctors informed the devastated athlete that if they didn’t remove the tumor it would press into his brain stem and kill him.
Cliff went under the knife to remove the tumor, never once allowing himself to think about the “what-ifs” that could change the course of his life for good. He spent 13 hours in surgery, and there were complications; doctors think he either suffered a stroke while under anesthesia or perhaps even briefly died.
He’ll never know exactly what happened while he was under, but the result was that Cliff woke up at New York University Hospital tumor-free — and paralyzed from the neck down.
Ever the fighter, Cliff immediately began the intensive training that would help him walk again. His gait is stilted and he can only move half of his body, but that didn’t stop him from getting back into diving just as quickly as he could. Once he’d completed his education, Cliff began coaching the diving teams at local schools, eventually landing a job at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Now an award-winning collegiate coach, Cliff spends his time verbally instructing high-level divers — all while remaining dry at the side of the pool. Yet once every year, Cliff feels the need to prove to himself that he can still get “back in his element.”
“It took me a while to realize my diving career was done,” he explained. “I set goals that kept getting smaller and smaller: ‘I won’t go to the Olympics, but I’ll win a national championship.’ And later: ‘I won’t win a national championship, but I’ll just dive.’ Finally, it became: ‘I’m just going to do a dive every year on my birthday.’”
On his 44th birthday dive, Cliff admits that he stumbled so badly that if it weren’t for the steadying hands of his son, he might have fallen off the board and been severely injured.
However, once a competitive athlete, always a competitive athlete! Cliff was determined to make his 45th birthday dive more remarkable than ever.
As dozens of spectators stood around the pool with their hearts in their throats, Cliff made the climb to the 10-foot diving board once more. Clinging tightly to Corey’s hand, he raises the arm he can move and performs a simple swan dive into the waiting arms of the swimmers below
But Cliff wasn’t done defying those odds just yet!
Determined to go above and beyond, he got out of the pool and went back to the ladder. This time, Corey held his hand as Cliff stood on the board… and then turned around to go in backwards.
Colleen Natarajan, the mother of four of Cliff’s diving students, says that watching Cliff make his annual birthday dive is inspiring for everyone whose lives he’s touched.
“This dive puts anything you’re afraid of into perspective,” Colleen said. “He knows he might not be able to do it, and he does it anyway. It’s a lesson in trust; he’s trusting his students and the lifeguards to pull him out.”
“When I got out of surgery, it was very emotional — remembering things I couldn’t do anymore,” Cliff recalled. “Diving has been the best thing for me. It’s helped in my recovery because I just love the sport so much. The families have supported the program and supported me.”
How could you not be inspired by someone like Cliff? Not only did he not let a huge setback take the sport he loved from his life, but he’s now teaching others how to excel. His annual birthday dive is more than just a fun tradition, it’s a declaration of independence and a shining example of the indomitable human spirit that lives within us all.
Watch Cliff’s incredible double-dive for the big 45 below, and don’t forget to share.
This paralyzed diver marks each birthday with a nerve-racking high dive. This year, he did a second dive that had us on the edge of our seats.
Posted by Humankind Stories on Thursday, November 1, 2018
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