by Nigel Sumerlin
Ever since I started diving a few years ago, I’ve loved it. I’ve always tried to challenge myself, jumping from higher and higher rocks. Eventually I made diving a habit. Whenever I jumped into the river where my friends and I swim every summer, I automatically dived. Unfortunately, this habit contributed to a lot of pain that I could have avoided, and it almost cost me my life.
Each July my family gathers for a reunion. On Sunday morning, the last day of the reunion, my cousin and I were preparing to start our second rafting trip down the river beside my house. An adult cousin would pick us up about a mile downstream and bring us back to my house. It was one of our favorite reunion traditions.
We had been rafting the day before, but we hadn’t had as much fun as we could have, because the inflatable river raft had consistently hung up on the rocks protruding from the rapids. We had a better idea this time.
Our pastor has a few windsurfing boards without the sails that he keeps on the rocky beach for us to enjoy. Our bright idea was to use one of these instead of a raft—they would slide through the rapids more easily and are much easier to push than inflatable rafts.
After obtaining permission to use the surfboard, we were ready to go. But before we left, my dad gave me a warning. “Nigel, I know you like to dive, but you don’t know the depth where you’re going, so look twice before you do.”
“Yeah, sure, Dad,” I replied.
So we set off. About half of the trip went great. We practiced balancing two people on one board, and when we came to rapids, my cousin and I took turns using the surfboard while the other person walked, since it was harder to stay balanced in the rough water.
Finally we reached one of my favorite parts of almost every rafting trip, Big Rock. It’s not too hard to guess what Big Rock is. It is a huge rock about 15 to 20 feet high that protrudes from the bank, making it perfect for jumping. It is a tradition for my family to stop at Big Rock to jump a few times.
The thing about Big Rock is that when you see it for the first time you feel a bit disappointed, because it doesn’t look that big . . . until you’re looking down from the top. Then you start thinking, “How did I ever think this thing was small?” And then you make the choice of throwing yourself into space or climbing back down.
As usual, I jumped several times. Then it was time to go. As we were about to leave, I decided to try standing on the surfboard. I was doing fairly well until I was challenged by my cousin, who started to shake the surfboard back and forth. I kept my balance briefly, and then I knew I was losing it.
My habit of diving took over, and I felt the familiar rush through the water. Suddenly came a very unfamiliar feeling of being smacked hard by something instead of continuing my normal curve. A jarring pain told me that something was definitely wrong. I swam to the surface and realized what had happened.
Big Rock has a ledge that tilts down to about five feet below the surface and then drops abruptly, making the water very deep. That is why we can safely jump from Big Rock without killing ourselves. Unfortunately, when I dived off the surfboard, I dived smack into the ledge right before it drops to the bottom.
I was in pain. I was bleeding, and I knew I probably looked as bad as I felt. When I waded out of the water, my cousin confirmed my last fear. With a gasp he asked me what had happened. I told him, and we came to a mutual decision that he should take the surfboard the rest of the way down, and I would walk.
As I was walking, I started thinking about my injuries. The worst was on my upper lip. That’s were most of the blood was coming from. Another was on the entire left side of my face. It was a huge scrape that I was sure didn’t make anything prettier. Last, my jaw hurt every time I took a step, but I couldn’t confirm whether it was fractured or just very badly bruised.
Eventually we came to the pickup point. The cousin awaiting us there confirmed how bad I looked. When I walked into the house, I was greeted by even more relatives who also confirmed how bad I looked. That was probably the worst part of my experience. People asking, “What happened to you?” And I would reply, “I dived into a rock.” That was really embarrassing.
Half my face ended up looking like I had a bouncy ball in it and I had been attacked by some crazy animal. This went on for a week; all the while I had to tell people how much of an idiot I had been. I realized that if it wasn’t for my guardian angel, I might have broken my neck. I also realized that if I had taken my dad seriously and thought about his warning, none of this would have happened.
You see, my dad specifically told me that I should be really careful. I hadn’t checked twice before I dived. In fact, I wasn’t thinking about what my dad said at all. It would have helped if I had obeyed the counsel in Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—that it may go well with your and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
I’m grateful that my guardian angel kept me from hitting the rock straight on, or I probably wouldn’t be able to type this for one of two reasons: I might be paralyzed and unable to move two or possibly four limbs, or I might be dead.
I’m grateful that God kept me alive and taught me an important lesson that will definitely help for the rest of my life. Now I need to find out what He wants me to do next.