Way back when I first moved to Vancouver Island, I found work at a concrete plant.
One of the many guys I worked with at the plant was a young, energetic and charismatic young man who was also quite athletic.
Almost every day after work, weather permitting, he would hop in his canoe and paddle a couple of miles to an oceanside pub for a jug of beer.
He was always in good humour, and was a happy and funny person to have around during the long work hours.
In my own youthful innocence, I couldn’t imagine anything bad could ever happen to such a sunny man at such a young age.
But then, one hot summer day while travelling with his girlfriend in the Lower Mainland, tragedy struck.
They stopped by an unfamiliar lake to take a dip and cool off, but when my friend took a powerful dive head first from a rock, he misjudged the depth of the water and struck his head.
That resulted in spine damage that left him a quadriplegic and bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
My colleagues at work and I were devastated at the news, and at the realization of how health and life can be so fragile.
I have never dived head first into a body of water ever since.
I would rather risk a broken foot of leg than a head or neck injury that could see me paralyzed.
But these stories keep coming into newsrooms like ours during the summer months, particularly like this summer when the extreme heat has been driving people to their nearest swimming holes to cool off.
One example was when Cameron Thompson, a young man from the Comox Valley, saw a typical Saturday of fun in the water go horribly wrong one day last month.
The man was out swimming with friends when he dove off some rocks which were about eight feet above the water, and didn’t come out.
Fortunately, there were people close by who witnessed the catastrophic dive who quickly came to Thompson’s rescue and saved his life, but his life will never be the same again.
Payne’s initial medical prognosis said that “the injuries to his spinal cord are extensive, leaving Cameron paralyzed with a long road of healing ahead of him.”
“I think he just misjudged his dive,” said Thompson’s aunt, Brenda Payne.
“It looks deep enough to dive from that spot. I think he just misjudged the angle of his dive. This was not a deep dive. He was diving for a swim, but misjudged.”
Statistics indicate that diving is once of the top five causes of spinal cord injuries with paralysis, and many diving incidents leave the diver completely paralyzed from the neck down..
Not surprisingly 89 per cent of individuals who get hurt diving are male, and most individuals who are injured are between 20 and 29 years old.
It’s a fact that men are typically bigger risk takers than women, and many of them like to show off their bravado, at great and unnecessary risks to themselves, by pretending to be world-class swimmers and divers while in the water.
According to the Canadian Red Cross, 95 per cent of diving injuries occur in water 1.5 metres deep or less, in an unsupervised setting with no warning signs, and more than half of diving injuries and deaths involve alcohol and/or drug use.
The Red Cross advises that in unfamiliar watering holes, and even in familiar ones, people should always enter the water feet first the first time to be sure of the water depth and be aware of any hazards.
“Diving head first into water should be avoided unless the individual is properly trained and certain that the water is deep enough,” according to the health agency.
So be careful and aware when heading out for a swim.
You don’t want to spend the rest of your life regretting a bad choice.