I went head first into a boulder at 45 m.p.h. at Millerton Lake in Fresno County, California. It didn't kill me, but it sure as hell didn't make me stronger. Somebody commented once that the paralysis was a blessing because I couldn't feel any pain. True, I had no feeling from the chest down, but my broken neck (three places) and massive head injury reminded me every day of where I now lived; intensive care at St. Agnes Hospital. I had two bolts screwed into my skull that held weights to keep me in traction. My bed was a Stryker Frame that would be flipped every 2 hours to prevent my skin from breaking down; I spent 2 hours looking at the ceiling and 2 hours suspended in air looking at the floor. Every turn involved moving the weights which would rattle my fractured skull and pinned together spinal chord. The drugs were so intense that I developed a psychosis so deep that I spoke to the walls and saw people outside my window, which was on the sixth floor. My eyes would roll back in my head and nothing I did could stop it. The severity of my injury was sneaky because that part I couldn't feel was shutting down and traumatized. I was losing blood so fast that my stomach blew up and they had to operate on my bleeding ulcer in the middle of the night to save my life. It was 34 days of a horror that words can't do justice. This horror had nothing to do with football or walking, it was the constant war with agony. It was a war I couldn't win. There was no John Wayne bravado, combat veteran toughness, or Disney-type happy ending. The pain broke me, plain and simple. It was bigger than me and kicked my ass to a bloody pulp. But, for whatever reason, it didn't kill me.
Looking back, I'm pretty sure I know why I lived. As lonely as I felt in my darkest moments, I was really never alone. My mom, my grandparents, and siblings never left my side. My friend Jeff was 16, but the closest thing in my life to a spiritual advisor so I listed him as my clergy. He was (and still is) there. My longest and dearest friend Shelley worked at Baskin Robbins and would sneak in, lay under my bed and feed me ice cream which was totally inappropriate. I loved it. My girlfriend Kim didn't stay with me through the experience, but she kept a vigil in those 34 days. The lobby stayed full of my friends from Clovis High School's Classes of 78 and 79 and the impression we made on our local medical community is talked about to this day. My mom did her best to sneak people in, but I mostly never saw the daily mob that crowded the waiting room during October of 1977. But I knew they were there and I wanted to be around them again. I felt their presence, felt their buzz and gained in inexplicable amount of mojo from them. So much so, in fact, that at the end of month, I had to make a decision that would alter the course of my recovery and, consequently, my life. Over the years I've learned that leadership is intentional; you have to create the future you want for yourself. I had to pick a rehab facility to spend the next 5 months and had 3 great choices. Santa Clara, Denver, and Southern Cal have world class rehab hospitals that would provide the care and most up-to-date regimen. Unfortunately, I wasn't leaving. If I was going to walk this crazy road, I wanted to walk it with my people. So I picked door number 4; The Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Unit at Fresno Community Hospital. I put my faith in team, and what happened next will live in infamy.