When Scott Coleman dived into shallow water in a lake on a beautiful Sunday afternoon nearly 39 years ago his life changed forever.
Coleman, who lives in Olive Branch, was paralyzed from the neck down and lost all feeling.
But the 55 year-old nationally-recognized author said that moment was really when he began to "feel" what life was all about.
"I was water-skiing with a group of friends," Coleman recalled of that fateful afternoon on June 22, 1980. "The rest of the guys wanted to go in — I said one more round. I took a deep dive in shallow water. I crushed the third and fourth vertebrae in my neck and I've been a quadriplegic since the age of 17."
Coleman said when the doctors came back into his room after looking at the X-rays they said it looked like someone took a stick of dynamite and blew his cervical cord into a "million pieces."
His parents were at first advised that he might be better off placed in an institution.
Yet, Coleman's parents insisted their son set goals for himself. After all, Coleman had always been been a highly successful athlete, a self-taught musician and a well-liked, motivated young man.
"My parents and I cried, mourned and grieved together," Coleman remembered. "But they said you have to have some goals. They said your tutor is in the hall. I remember thinking, gee, it's just July. My buddies aren't even going back to school until September."
Yet Coleman persevered in his studies, would eventually marry a local girl from Whitehaven, the former Linda Parrott, with whom he has been married for 26 years.
He would be hired by the Paine Webber stock brokerage firm. Coleman learned to dial a telephone with his tongue and wrote with an ink pen in his mouth.
"If not for the grace of God and my family I would be dead," Coleman said rather matter-of-factly. "We all have our limitations but with the grace of God you can take all of your train wrecks and still have a pretty wonderful life," Coleman said in remarks Wednesday to the Rotary Club of Hernando.
Coleman has continued to enjoy pursuits that he engaged in as a young adult such as hunting — even though he has been teased by friends about missing a turkey at close range.
Coleman said even when he was tempted to despair, he remembered that God has special plans for him.
Not long after his accident, he lay in his bedroom and pondered his situation.
"We had an intercom," Coleman said. "My mom and dad would come running in if I had a muscle spasm. They came in and knew something was wrong. I said to them, 'crank me up, give me a Bible to read and get out."
It was then that Coleman began reading the Book of Job, based on the Old Testament character who lost everything and was tempted to give up.
"At night, I would lie in bed and think, now, what am I going to do?," Coleman said. "I would start praying and crying. I've never been mad at God but I was frustrated. I never got to the point I would commit suicide."
Coleman turned to the Word of God instead.
"I started reading the Book of Job," Coleman recalled. "In the first part of the book he is sitting up in a pile of ashes with sores all over his body. His wife comes in and says to him 'Just curse God and die.'"
"I got to the point I hated the Book of Job," Coleman confessed. "Then, I got to around Chapter 30 or 33. God shows up. He says 'Hey, Job, gird up your loins.' I guess that's something like put on your big boy pants."
Coleman set about to write his inspirational book "Best When Broken," which was published by WestBow Press in 2012. Since its publication, the book has earned rave reviews, including a blurb from Joni Eareckson Tada, a former member of the Billy Graham Crusade and a fellow quadriplegic who was also paralyzed from a diving accident.
"Every time I hit a rut or I am on the edge of despair, somebody encourages me," Coleman said.
He writes in his book: "Frequently, I am asked if I had the ability to flip a switch and never have broken my neck, would I flip that switch. If it meant missing everything I have learned and everything I have experienced as a direct result of what started as a terrible summer day, I wouldn't change a thing, not for a bazillion dollars."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.