Most people who know me know that I am a story teller. I love to use stories as a way to reinforce a point in a lesson or to emphasize an application to a particular scripture. Hey, if it worked for Jesus! Anyway, I have lived a normal life as far as I can see. Pretty typical kid growing up with a lot of stuff that happened along the way. But, for some strange reason, I have this unique ability to remember things that happened to me with such clarity that it seems like it happened yesterday. Now, those who know me will also find that humorous since I can’t seem to remember phone numbers, names, or even where I placed my keys!
Those who have heard one of my stories, especially for the very first time, usually make a statement something like, “No way!” Or, “ There is NO way!” Or, “He surly made that up!” Now, the reason for it is because what I consider normal events to me seem to be completely not normal for a lot of others, like most of the rest of the world. I don’t understand it, but I guess I have had a lot of weird things happen to me. Things that do seem to be unbelievable. My roommate from college has for YEARS begged me to write a book about my life because he thinks it would be a runaway best seller. I think he is on serious drugs and is need of a more active social life.
Never the less, I thought I would share a story with you that happened to me literally just a few days after I had graduated from high school. This one event truly changed my life in a very profound way. I have no idea where I would be today if this particular event had not happened, but I am pretty sure I would not be where I am today. I hope I have your attention and your curiosity at this point.
Sunday afternoon, like EVERY Sunday afternoon, in Huntsville, Alabama, in our youth group at church, was football time. We played every Sunday afternoon, rain or shine. Snow, ice, you name it, it did not stop us from playing. Not only was it fun, we were good, too. Tackle football, no pads, no helmets, you know, none of the sissy stuff. This was man ball. Smash mouth, bone busting, over the top football. Oh, it was good. It was so much fun. And this Sunday we were going to go up and play on top of Monte Sano Mountain at the park that was up there. And there was going to be a good turn out too, this was going to be a good day.
Church services let out, we jumped in our cars, raced home, grabbed something to eat and changed clothes. Then we drove up the winding road that led up to the top of the mountain. We got up there and were puzzled to see a lot of cars in the parking lot. A LOT of cars. Too many cars. I remember thinking, “Oh no, this can’t be good.” And sure enough, it wasn’t. There was a big firm having its annual picnic up there and the fields were full of “amateurs” playing 2 hand touch football and softball. Oh, it killed us to watch it. And we waited, hoping that by some stroke of luck that they would pack up and go home. But they didn’t.
Most of our group shrugged their shoulders and decided to go home. Find something else to do. The game of the year evaporated right before my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. But a few of us stayed, depressed. There is nothing like having company when you are depressed, right? So we tossed the football around just off the edge of the parking lot, near the hiking paths. Then we began seeing who could throw the longest pass, then the longest kicks (everything was a contest to us back then). Then, IT happened.
I actually can’t remember for sure who it was, I think it was Barry, who punted the ball that soared into the air like a Patriot missile. It went right over our heads, over some short trees, and down into the hiking path area that led down the backside of Monte Sano Mountain. Now, I grew up in Huntsville, and I had hiked these paths dozens of times, all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. I knew that there was a stream at the bottom, cool, refreshing, and deep enough in some spots to swim. So, when we went looking for the football I was thinking to myself that maybe we could at least hike the trial today.
As we walked into the tree line to look for the ball, we noticed that it was really muddy on the trail. I guess it had rained there Saturday night or something, but never the less, wet. We found the ball right away but someone in the group kicked it while it was still laying on the ground and sent it off the edge of the hiking path, farther down the pathway. I guess they had the same idea as me. So, off we went, hiking the slippery path, laughing and kidding at each other down the path.
The path became more and more steep as we went winding down the mountain. The path had switch backs leading us down the side of the of the mountain. Every time we approached the football someone would just kick it down the slope. Down we went, just like we had done time after time. I could almost literally walk this path with my eyes closed. I wouldn’t do it though, because many times I had encountered snakes along the path. I am petrified of snakes so keeping eyes open was a full time job going down this trail. We were well over half way down the trail when we first began discussing openly what our plans were going to be. I quickly suggested heading on down to the stream to cool off, which a couple agreed, while a couple of others were indicating they were bored and were thinking about heading back up to the cars and going home. Then IT happened.
The football, being held by a guy named Steve, actually and accidentally fell out of his hands and bounced down the muddy pathway and dropped off of the side of the pathway. This area of the path was called the bluffs because there was a 40’ drop off from the edge of the path straight down to some large boulders below. We heard the football hit the bottom and bounce. We actually debated whether or not to go find it, because the path took a long switchback loop downward to get to the area that the ball had fallen.
I headed to the edge of the pathway to see if I could see where the football had gone. Now, we are talking about a $12.00 football here, nothing fancy, nothing about it that it made it any more valuable. Nothing sentimental about it, nothing. Just a $12.00 ball that could easily be replaced. But I had to go see where it went. I just had to go. I just had to see. I just had to be the one. For some reason, it was fate that took me down that path that day.
I had several offers in high school to go to different colleges my senior year. Because of my grades, and mainly because of my athletic talents, I had received scholarship offers to play ball at about a half dozen schools. One to play basketball and 5 to play baseball. The best offer was the University of Montevallo, in central Alabama. It was pretty much a full ride to go there. And I was really leaning towards going there. Other schools, like Calhoun Community College, University of the South, Freed-Hardeman, etc. were still in consideration, but I had just about made up my mind.
When I took my first couple of steps down the steep slope of the trail I knew something was wrong. I could FEEL it as I tried to slow my progress towards the edge of the trail as I neared the edge of the cliff. Not only could I not stop, I was gaining momentum and the mud caused my feet to slip out from under me. In a blink of an eye, before I could even open my mouth to yell, I slipped and went over the edge of the cliff and fell 40 feet straight down to the large boulders at the bottom. The last thing I saw before I slipped off was a shrub growing on the side if the trail. I desperately grasped for it, in vain. It had thorns growing in it and they cut into my arms and chest like tiny razors as I went over. The fall going down happened so fast that before I could even suck in a breath of air I hit the giant bounder below and crumpled to the ground. I passed out, only for a moment, and came back with shooting pain running up and down my legs and spine. I could hear my friends above me yelling to see if I was ok..... if I was even alive. I was so stunned that I could not reply for a moment or two. Once I knew I was not dead, I called back to my friends to come down to get me because I couldn’t move my legs.
My friends scrambled down the pathway to get to me, as fast as they could SAFELY get to me. One of my best friends, Paul, literally slipped about 10 feet above me and fell too! And landed right on top of me!!! Now that is what I say is adding insult to injury! Linked arm in arm, they literally carried me back to the top of the mountain to get me to a car to get me to the hospital. An air flight helicopter was dispatched but was unable to get to me from where we were. About 4 hours later (20 minutes down the trail, 3 hours to get back up, and a 20-30 minute drive to the hospital) I was admitted to the emergency room at The Medical Center. X-Rays revealed a broken leg, broken bones in my right foot, dislocated ankle, torn ligaments in my right knee, and a compressed spine, and several cuts on my arms and chest. All in all, I was in pretty bad shape but at least I was still alive! I just survived a 40’ fall off of a cliff!
The doctors were not very optimistic. They told me that the injuries were pretty severe and that I would not be playing any ball again. They said I would walk, but my competitive ball playing days were over. And they said I would probably live with some pain and side effects from the injury for the rest of my life. That was only the beginning. I was in a cast for over 3 months, recovering from the injuries. 3 months of pain and agony, and 3 months to face reality and to think about what was happening to me and my future.
Stay tuned for part two of the story. The application of the moral of the story. As I mentioned before, I think I grew up a normal kid with normal events. Maybe not. And now maybe you can see why many would say that a story like this is made up. But I can assure you, I can contact the 5 that were with me that day to verify this story. We are all still close friends, even to this day. This is just one of dozens of stories that have happened to me over the years that I use to bring out “the moral of the story.”
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story and are anxious about hearing the conclusion to the story!