Leap into Reality


My heart stopped beating as I peered over the edge of the 90-foot cliff. I couldn’t believe I’d put myself in this position. My friends in the boat below were laughing at my hesitation to jump, which made me even more determined to go through with it.

We’d chosen Lake Powell in southern Utah as our graduation retreat, and we were glad temperatures soared into the 90s during that first week of June. It felt great to be healthy, tan, and 18.

As we climbed to the summit of that 90-foot cliff, we laughed at our friends back in the boat who passed up the chance of flying through that great expanse of air toward the water. They were all talk and no action, we joked as we reached the top. They were the same guys, after all, who had passed up almost any form of “entertainment” during our high school years.

There was Ted, for instance, who had been the great guilt-inflicter during those Halloween nights when we used to smash pumpkins just because we didn’t have anything better to do. “Sure, go ahead and destroy some kid’s pride and joy,” he’d object, as my braver friends and I left to tromp through the dark neighborhoods, hot on the trail of Mr. Jack-o’lantern. Ted’s unusual sensibility had always puzzled me. After all, I was nearly four months his senior, and I thought that kind of judgment belonged to older people who were married and had children of their own.

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when Bryce, the bold one, let out a scream and jumped off the cliff. It wasn’t a graceful takeoff, but it got the job done. I watched him flip like a fish as he fell through the sky, and I heard the distant splash when he hit the water. “You’ve got to try it!” he yelled as he pulled himself into the boat. It was a direct challenge.

I looked around and found my three buddies smiling at me. My stomach went sour. It was then I realized that jumping from a 90-foot cliff wasn’t such a hot idea. But how could I pull out now? They’d never let me live it down.

Just when I was about to jump, I was interrupted by Kelly, who barked out an obscenity and took off. We never saw him hit the water, but heard him crying as the others pulled him into the boat.’ His knees had slammed together upon impact, and he would be in a cast for the rest of the summer, following surgery on both knees.

The three of us who remained were now scared to death, but we wouldn’t admit it. I remember thinking about my acceptance to BYU, and about my plans to serve a mission after my freshman year. For the first time that day, I began to think of the consequences of making the jump. What if I became seriously injured? Was impressing my friends really that important?

“Fifty percent chance you make it and fifty percent chance you get hurt,” Bryce impatiently yelled at me from below. That was comforting.

I slowly walked back from the edge, then raced toward it, lifting my body off the ground as I soared into the warm sky. I looked immediately down and found the water racing toward me. I waved my arms to maintain balance.

My entry into the water was like an explosion, and I heard my back snap. As I sank through the water, I became aware that I couldn’t move my body. I felt as though my lungs would explode as I slowly floated to the surface, only to hear my friends laughing at the expression on my face.

Ted was the first to realize I was in pain, and he told the others to stop laughing as I was pulled into the boat. I mentioned something about the pain in my back as they laid me down next to the already-injured Kelly, and I was soon whimpering right along with him.

Kelly and I watched in bewilderment as the remaining two contemplated their own jumps. Despite unfavorable odds, each of them made the leap—successfully.

Since no doctors were within 100 miles of us, I decided to finish the trip with my friends. I lay in a tent for two days, shocked at my stupidity. I was only 18, yet I had risked my life for the sake of “entertainment.”

The doctor who examined my back said I had a compression-fracture which would cause arthritis throughout my life, but I still considered myself very lucky.

For nearly four years I had wandered carelessly through a world of smashed pumpkins and crazy dives. I hadn’t stopped to consider what effect my actions were having on other people, or on myself. I had been a thrill seeker who never had to face the consequences until that fateful day when I’d almost given my life just to impress my friends. It took a crash through Lake Powell’s waters to plunge me from my fantasy world into a world of reality and responsibility.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus