Paralyzed local teen finds freedom in scuba diving

Posted: 07/15/2011 in all marine news

Erica Blake –

Slicing his cupped hands through the chilly water to propel himself forward, John Harris made his way to the submerged platforms at Whitestar Quarry.

He checked the depth on his gauges, flooded his mask and cleared out the water, and took out the mouthpiece of his regulator as a demonstration of how he would share air.

It was a typical lesson for those learning how to scuba dive. But the smile that spread across his face as he floated on his back in the water after the first of his four certification dives showed something very different.

Despite being paralyzed in a dirt-bike crash not quite a year ago, the 17-year-old Petersburg, Mich., resident was now one stroke closer to being a certified scuba diver.

“I used to swim all the time,” he said after he and his sister, Ashley, finished their first open-water dive. “I never thought it would be fun but it is. I like being free in the water.”

The teen said he doesn’t remember much about July 20, 2010. He and some friends were practicing at a dirt bike track in Milan, Mich., when he hit a jump wrong and was hurled through the air, end-over-end.

When he landed, he broke two vertebrae in his back.

“I remember being hurt, a helicopter ride, and [nothing more until] two weeks later,” he said, adding that although he had a broken back, he doesn’t recall feeling any pain.

At age 16 and with goals of entering an amateur-level national dirt bike competition, he was paralyzed from the waist down. And life for the adventurous teenager was about to drastically change.

“I can’t explain it, I have no idea why,” his father, Rod, said while reflecting on the crash. “But it is what it is. You just have to get on with it and all along, [John] has pulled us through this.”

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