Cliff Devries was once a nationally-ranked driver who dreamed of going to the Olympics. But in his early 20s, Devries faced cancer and a life-saving surgery that left the right side of his body paralyzed —bringing his athletic aspirations to a halt.
Now a diving coach at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, Devries celebrates his birthday each year by diving into a pool, according to Deseret News. This year, for his 44th birthday, Devries took to the school’s Judson Pool — and the inspirational moment was caught on video.
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“I’ve never really seen it as an inspirational thing. It’s just a lot of fun for me to get up on the board and be back in the water,” Devries told the publication. “The fact that it has blown up to be a large thing where a lot of people can say this is something that is good and helped them, that’s just an extra bonus for me.”
Video footage of the dive shows Devries walking to the edge of the diving board, as his 5-year-old daughter, Grace, watches from the side of the pool. After a small tumble backward, Devries completes the dive and little Grace is shown on the sidelines jumping up and down and clapping for her father.
“I wanted one more inch, so as I dove my feet wouldn’t scrape the board,” Devries told the Democrat & Chronicle. “That’s when my leg locked up and I fell back onto Corey. I was pretty scared there for a moment. A whole bunch of scenarios were going through my head.”
Still, he completed the dive with no issues. And Facebook video footage of the display has been viewed more than 50 million times.
“It’s been an amazing few days,” he told the Chronicle. “I’m just happy that everybody is seeing something that they can take from it and that it has been a positive video for everybody.”
In 1995, shortly after returning from a mission trip, Devries had surgery to remove a massive tumor near his brain stem. He has been partially paralyzed ever since.
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“The people around me see me as normal,” Devries told the Chronicle. “I walk through the deck and nobody’s staring at me. Nobody thinks it’s special. It’s just Cliff going up on the board doing his annual dive.”
He added: “I’d love to do a back dive one of these years. But I’m just not that ambitious.”