20 years ago, on January 21st, 2000, my life changed forever. A near death experience can do that for you…
Life is like that though, it likes to throw curve balls at us.
Growing up I was a million miles an hour, full speed ahead, headlong into the fray.
I was a farm kid who would build booby traps, climb everything, catch snakes and then cry when my oldest cousin would kill them – lookin at you Danny.
I very rarely reached my limits because to go that fast, or that far, or climb that high was terrifying – to many grown men I might add.
And just like everyone else, I was so often moving so fast that I would never stop and take a look around. We don’t take stock as often as we learn to when we are older and wiser.
Then, in a moment, everything came to a screeching halt.
As I said I grew up climbing everything, trees, rock, mountains, animals (horses, goats, cows, chickens, etc). This particular spot – climb or cliff if you will – has seen my specific kind of crazy on over 20 different occasions.
This is one of the contributing issues – overconfidence.
On that day I was up there with my roommate at the time and his girlfriend – her first time ever doing anything climbing related.
I ran up a trail and headed up the main climb to run a few ropes for the day. Back then I was like spiderman, not quite as quick as my younger brother Leif grew to be – he is crazy fast up rock faces – but I was up that climb as fast as I’ve ever seen anyone else go up.
I was feeling good, but at the top I had to stop and pause after rigging up the ropes on the beautiful old juniper tree at the top – I had on a manufactured harness on for the first time on this climb.
See I was not a wealthy climber – I was not all geared out. I was used to a swiss seat harness or one that is basically one piece of webbing tied on. With a swiss seat you can tie on different load-bearing loops right at the beginning of the day so you can hook up in any way you want.
Most manufactured harnesses did not have load-bearing in front and back, only rescue harnesses had that back in the day.
So what did I do to come down the rock? Well, I put my harness on backward, didn’t even tighten up the leg straps as well as I should have (I usually leave some give in a swiss seat anyway), and didn’t have anyone there to buddy check me…
Contributing issue #2 – safety
I hooked up and then proceeded to do a slack jump Aussie style – basically I pulled out some slack so I could get some distance when I took a running, front-facing, jump off of the top of the rock.
I still don’t know exactly what happened, how I messed up putting the harness on backward but I assume that I didn’t do the over-under over and back through correct and as a result the friction that would usually not let the webbing slip wasn’t there.
So it slipped off, and then off my legs and body, while I was in mid-air.
I fell 86ft and landed on solid rock – as you can see in the video.
As soon as I realized that I had completely F#*&ed up I didn’t actually think about the fact that I was about to die.
It was a given, people don’t live after falling from this height.
I am a bit embarrassed to admit that my first thought was that I would never catch a football again. I was 20 so I cut myself a little slack now.
My second was the fact that I was never going to be a father, never going to have a family.
The next thought was that I better tuck my head because that ledge coming up fast is going to hit me in the head if I don’t.
See after so many years of martial arts training I was naturally pulling my body around to land in, what we call in Judo, a break-fall. To distribute your surface area over the point of impact as much as possible.
Well, I came back out of my head just in time to see that ledge coming…
And then nothing. Static. I’m not saying that I don’t remember, I do, I’m saying that for some reason my senses were so overwhelmed that all I saw or heard was white noise. I have no idea what this was, I’m still trying to figure it out.
And then I remember the feeling of landing, of hitting the ground and stopping violently.
I could see again, I didn’t lose consciousness, and I realized I was alive.
I looked to my left, where Chris’s girlfriend was standing, only to see her frozen, mouth agape.
The next moment I checked my fingers and toes for feeling, I was good, no spinal injury at least at the moment.
Then the Boy Scout in me took over and I checked to see if I could feel my fingers and toes, I had feeling. I slowly straightened my legs, still all good.
Finally, I rotated my hips and shoulders a little to check if I could feel any bone on bone grinding that would limit me from moving any more or possibly cause a spinal injury…
Nope didn’t feel anything there so I decided to roll over…
That didn’t work.
I rolled to my dominant side, my right side and tried to bring my left arm over to push myself up and my arm wasn’t coming…
I looked over to see why my arm wasn’t working and all I could see was about 2 inches past my shoulder.
The rest of my arm was limp, broken, and still folded over behind me in a way that shouldn’t be possible.
This is where the colorful language started.
I went to lay back down and realized that I was about to lay back down on my arm.
I thought about it for a moment and realized that the only way I was going to get my arm out from under me was to literally fling my shoulder and what part of my arm I could control and set my alarm followed out from under me.
Right about this time Chris came barreling through a bush in his tank top and bleeding from all the scratches he earned on his frantic run down the trail.
He was also shocked that I was alive.
I reached up with my right arm and asked them to help me up and he looked at me like I was crazy.
See this was a time before everyone had cell phones or a time where cell phones worked everywhere. I informed him that I knew that if he went down the mountain to go get help and then brought help back up it would be possibly hours of me laying there and that was not going to happen.
As you can see in the video or images it wasn’t that far a walk down to where we always park the cars.
So I convinced Chris to help me up, I was barely holding onto my shirt with my broken left arm with my index finger and my thumb barely having enough strength to hold on.
It took us about 45 minutes from the time I landed to pull up to the brand new hospital in town. Chris ran in and then came out with a very confused look on his face 5 minutes later.
He said that they told him if I could walk to the car I could walk into the emergency room.
By this time I was fully feeling everything the adrenaline had worn off and I was upset at everything.
I was upset at myself. I was upset that I had to walk into the ER. I was starting to realize just how much of my life was about to change.
Then I walked into the ER and proceeded to sit there for another 5 minutes well Chris tried to explain what had actually happened to me.
About five minutes later, now a total of 10 minutes sitting in the ER with no one else there, a nurse stuck her head out the double doors and asked if I needed help.
I don’t exactly remember what I said but it was basically to the tune of I just fell off of a cliff and I’m pretty broken so yes I need some help.
Once they got me back behind the doors and on a gurney, they finally listened to the story of what happened.
Everyone was shocked and I was immediately whisked off for x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. I don’t think the nurses realized that I had no pain medication when they were taking my x-rays I also don’t know exactly why it took six hours before I got any pain relief but it had something to do with moving from an old hospital to new hospital and being able to find the right doctor to read the scans.
They were worried about a head injury and putting me into a coma. During this time I was slipping in and out of shock feeling extreme pain and then finally the pain medication came.
They placed me in a medically-induced coma for three days until they could put me in surgery.
The surgery that lasted 14 hours and now my arm looks like this.
Apparently sometime in between the coma meds and the surgery meds I was in the gurney about to go into the OR and the Doctor was talking to my Grandpa Bear about possibly having to amputate my arm…
I don’t remember this but I sat up, opened my eyes and told the doctor that if he cut my arm off I would kill him.
lHe looked at my Grandpa Bear and as the doctor told it he said “He just might”
As I was recovering the Doc would bring people in to tell them the story about the kid who motivated him like no other to perform well in surgery.
I actually felt bad every time he told the story.
All in all my pelvis was broken into 4 pieces, I didn’t understand how I walked with my pelvis as messed up as it was, but apparently adrenaline and being in really good shape from a muscle structure perspective made it possible.
As for my arm, it was in 32 pieces – I now have 2 plates, 18 screws, a washer, and some wire all in my left arm.
I spent the next 3 weeks in the hospital recovering from not only the broken bones but also the internal injuries that come with such a violent collision with the mountain.
I was broken physically.
The next few weeks after surgery it almost broke me mentally and emotionally.
And It was all a gift.
I had a choice – I could take a look at my life or wallow in self-pity and get lost in my despair.
I almost fell down that hole, but I had some amazing people around me. I was reminded of how lucky I was to survive.
Then realization after realization hit me.
Realization #1 – I was not becoming the man I wanted to be.
I was cocky, arrogant, becoming less connected to my emotional intelligence and less of my natural kind self.
Some of you know me; I am a hugger, I’m a lover, and I see the best in people.
I’m also a big guy and there can be an intimidating quality to my size… until you get that hug from me.
I love all living things, I love everyone – even if I don’t like them. BUT I looked back and realized that I was on a path that leads to what some call toxic masculinity.
A thought that softness, tears, emotions, and kindness are somehow a path to being less of a man.
I come from Texas, from a military family and world, from a sports, specifically football background, from a martial arts world, from a farming and ranching and construction worker world. From a rough and very abusive home.
All of these worlds tried to teach me what it was to be a man.
I was lucky though. I had a few very Very strong matriarchs in my life. My grandmother on my father’s side, affectionately named Mama Bear, is one of the most amazing and influential people I know.
This woman wasn’t just amazing to me and to our family she was a teacher for 35 years and in her neighborhood, she was known for her amazing influence and impact.
My stepmother, may she rest in the greatest of peace, was brilliant and along with my grandmother gave me an absolute love for reading.
I often escaped into books, fiction, and non-fiction alike. Through books, The Romantics, I read about Tarzan, I read about The Hardy Boys, I read about Sherlock Holmes, and I read about how men could be both tough and smart and capable but also kind and loving.
I was lucky to have had both influences but as I grew into my later teens I started to forget the softer side so this wonderful sudden and violent pause in my life was a gift.
I was forced to reflect.
Realization #2 – I could be anyone I wanted to be.
Everything I thought I wanted to be was gone and my opportunity to lean into the military and possibly into law enforcement was over.
The realization that then came – that I had no idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be – was both terrifying and freeing at the same time.
This too was a gift.
I realized that I can go out into the world and discover what it was I loved and what I wanted to do.
It has taken me 20 years to solidify what it is I want to do with my life but if I hadn’t started 20 years ago where would I be now? How far behind would I be? How long would I have taken a path that wasn’t really my path at all?
This led me to realization #3 – How many people aren’t given such a gift so early in life?
I began to feel grateful for such a life-altering event.
My final realization was that almost everyone is gifted with a moment, or 7, in their lives that help them or give them the opportunity to pause and reflect.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve wondered why it takes such an extreme moment for us as humans to take these moments of reflection.
I don’t think it is necessary if we make a concerted effort to overcome our natural inclination to hide from Who We Are.
All of us are flawed, imperfect and at the same time wonderfully gifted.
Social media is and has Skewed our view of what life can be. Mainly because we get to control what we show people on social media and I’m here to tell you that Instagram isn’t the truth that Facebook or YouTube are not the whole story.
And, to be honest, the world isn’t ready for all of us to share the whole story with each other. We are all far, far too judgemental and not nearly as compassionate with each other as we could be. We are this way with ourselves too.
If you’ve watched the video above you realize that my challenge to you is to take a moment to reflect. Don’t be too critical and don’t be too easy on yourself. Try to be compassionate and understanding and then look at the areas of opportunity in your life.
Stop comparing your life to what you see online or on TV. Money does not solve all the problems in the world. A little more love and compassion is something we need a lot more of, towards ourselves and our world.
Go be a little bit more loving and compassionate to yourself and those around you.
And finally when you do figure out what it is you’re passionate about I want to know.
If you want to know what I have discovered over the last 20 years, what I have learned my passion is then I encourage you to click the link below and take part in the Choose Your Own Adventure web experience that I’ve created.
It will help you understand why I believe I’m here and will also give us the opportunity to connect around what you’re passionate about.
Until we do have the opportunity to talk or connect in the future…
I hope you have an amazing day.