Cliff Devries, 44, loves the sport of diving so much that despite being paralyzed on his right side, he climbs up the ladder of the three-meter springboard each birthday, walks to the edge of the board and takes the head-first plunge with lifeguards waiting to pull him out.
Devries, who coaches the diving team at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), might tell you he takes the once-a-year dive to give the lifeguards practice, but truly, it’s to quench his proverbial thirst.
“I just love the feeling of diving. I can’t take the time to go and get a lifeguard, and do it everyday, so I put that as my birthday gift to myself,” he told Rochester First. “I have the lifeguards pull me out, I get to the side and give my daughter a kiss every year. It’s fun and it’s a neat thing for me to be able to do working here at RIT.”
Along with his young daughter offering her support, his 20-year-old son, Corey, lends a hand as well — literally. During his last birthday dive, Corey was behind his father on the diving board and caught him when he lost his balance.
Here’s the clip from Devries’ 2017 birthday plunge:
Devries was a two-time high school All-American diver who went on to receive a scholarship at the University of Kentucky. However, severe shoulder pain led him to quit the school’s team, move to Utah and then spend two years in Argentina on a Mormon missionary trip.
Upon returning to the U.S. in 1995, he went in for an MRI because he couldn’t lift his arm above his head. That’s when doctors found a brain tumor.
“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 Democrat & Chronicle.
Most of the six-inch long tumor was removed during a 13-hour operation, but the surgery left him paralyzed from the neck down with doctors telling him he’d never walk again.
However, after countless hours put into rehabilitation, he regained feeling on his left side. Then, he relearned how to feed himself, brush his teeth and handle the rest of life’s daily chores left-handed.
More rehabilitation led to him resuming a relatively normal life. He was hired by RIT in 1999 as the school’s diving coach, and with the exception of leaving for three years to earn a degree in accounting, he’s been a fixture on their pool deck, and was named the Upper New York State Athletic Conference Diving Coach of the Year six times.
He also founded Upstate New York Diving, which is a nationally-ranked year-round instructional diving program for divers at all levels.
As for his next birthday dive?
“I’d love to do a back dive one of these years,” he told Democrat and Chronicle. “But I’m just not that ambitious.”
I beg to differ. After all, he’s still diving.