It can be hard to let go of a passion, even when life makes it nearly impossible to keep doing what you love.
For former All-American diver Cliff Devries, though, a profound level of determination has kept him from losing the sport he loves the most—even though the right side of his body has become paralyzed.
Devries was a All-American dive champ twice for Rush-Henrietta High School just outside of Rochester, New York.
Although he went to the University of Kentucky on a diving scholarship in the early 1990s, though, he was only able to make it through one semester of schooling before a debilitating pain in his shoulder derailed his life forever.
He left Kentucky to embark on a religious mission with his sister, spending two years traveling to other countries while hoping that his shoulder pain would go away without the intense dive training and schedule. When things hadn’t improved in 1995, though, he went in for an MRI, and discovered that a cancerous tumor the size of a hotdog in his brain was the root of his pain, not a training mistake.
It’s been 23 years since the tumor was removed from Devries’s brain stem, but the physical effects have been lasting. The surgery saved his life but ended his diving career forever when it paralyzed half of his body.
Most would turn away from a sport they loved if they could no longer participate, but Devries insisted on his love of diving. He founded his own diving program in upstate New York and now coaches at RIT to give back to the sport he has once excelled in.
Then, every year on his birthday, he proves that even a disability can’t stop him from doing what he truly loves.
With the spectators at the pool watching on in awe, Devries slowly climbs up onto the 3-meter diving board once a year. His son is there with him, helping his father keep his balance and making sure that nothing goes wrong—during his recent 2017 “birthday dive,” Devries slipped and nearly fell off, but thankfully, his son had his back.
Then, he plunges into the water with as good a form as a paralyzed man could manage—not quite the spectacle of his teenage years as a champion, but just as meaningful as any dive performed while he was still fully abled.
Having Devries as a coach serves as an inspiration for his pupils by proving that not even paralysis can deter a determined spirit.
This was certainly true of RIT alumnus Natalie Snyder, who dove her junior and senior years at RIT under Devries’s coaching and guidance after overcoming a major shoulder injury just prior to the start of her collegiate career, and while being legally deaf on top of that. Having Devries as her coach, she explained to the Democrat and Chronicle in 2016, helped her see that a disability can’t stop her from being great.