Cliff Devries was once an Olympic hopeful.
“It was, it was tough. Here he was this larger than life diver, high school All-American, scholarship down at Kentucky,” said his childhood friend, and fellow RIT Swimming/Diving Coach, Phil Baretela.
20 years ago, after an operation for a brain tumor, Devries lost all mobility from the neck down. He eventually regained the ability to walk, and the ability to dive. Something he now limits himself to do once a year, on his birthday.
“I just love the feeling of diving. You know, I can’t take the time to go out and get a lifeguard and do it every day, and so I put that as my birthday gift to myself,” said Devries. “I get out of the pool, have the lifeguards pull me out and I get to the side and give my daughter a kiss every year. It’s fun, it’s just a neat thing for me to be able to do working here at RIT.”
Devries was already an inspiration for many in our community, and now people all over the world are seeing him in the same light.
A video of his annual ‘birthday dive’ has gone viral. More than 16 million people have viewed it so far.
“He’s impacting lives. He’s changing lives through who he is and what he’s been through,” said Bareleta.
Patsy Hayes, a diver at RIT, said, “it’s very rewarding to see that he can still get up there and try no matter what life throws at him.”
“It doesn’t click for me. I don’t know what it is. I’m just doing what I love to do, and so some people see that as an inspiration and helps them, that’s great,” said Devries.
Although he was never able to make it to the Olympics as a diver, Devries hopes in the very near future, he’ll be able to make the trip as a coach.