Cliff Devries dreamed of competing in the Olympics as a diver throughout his childhood, but in his 20s, a life-saving surgery left him paralyzed from the neck down forcing him to abandon his dream.
Although the surgery ended his dreams of competing in the Olympics, he never lost his passion for diving. He celebrates every birthday with a splash. This uplifting display of the indomitable human spirit was caught on camera this year.
On his 44th birthday, Devries took a dive into the pool at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he’s the school’s diving coach.
Starting in his early 20’s, Devries began feeling a pain in his shoulder that never seemed to dissipate. When he finally went to see a doctor, he received the devastating news, it was cancer.
“They even told me, ‘We don’t know how you’re breathing, how you’re still walking, how you’re still alive because it’s in a very delicate spot in your brain stem.'” Devries told the Democrat & Chronicle in 2016.
During a grueling 13-hour surgery, doctors removed a six-inch long tumor that was positioned at the base of Devries brain stem. Although the surgery saved his life, it left him paralyzed from the neck down. Through a lot of hard work and determination, he was able to regain function on his left side.
About 10 years ago Devries took his first dive since the surgery.
According to Desert News, Devries was hired by RIT in 1999, he has decided to give himself a birthday present ever year, one dive into the pool.
“Ever since then I’ve decided to do it on my birthday,” he said.
For this year’s birthday dive, his five-year-old daughter Grace watched from the pool deck, while his 20-year-old son, Corey, who is a diver at a local community college, spotted him on the board.
Everyone watched as he carefully inched his way to the edge of the diving board.
Devries’ dive was a success! Although there was a tense moment when the 44-year-old lost his balance, luckily his son Corey was right behind him.
“I wanted one more inch, so as I dove my feet wouldn’t scrape the board,” Devries told the Democrat & Chronicle. “That’s when my leg locked up and I fell back onto Corey. I was pretty scared there for a moment. A whole bunch of scenarios were going through my head.”
Once he was back on his feet, Devries was ready to go.
3, 2, 1, go!
Everyone cheered as he splashed into the pool, his biggest cheerleader was his daughter Grace, who could be seen in the background jumping up and down in delight.
While Devries was happy so many people viewed the clip of his annual dive and were able to find it inspirational, he said the video simply shows his yearly routine.
“I walk through on deck and nobody’s staring at me,” he said. “Nobody thinks its special. It’s just Cliff going up on the board doing his annual dive.”
Devries won’t be getting back into the pool until next year, but in the meantime, he’ll be on the pool deck coaching his student-athletes.
Devries joked that one of these years he’d like to do a back dive.
“But I’m just not that ambitious,” he said.
Never say never!