A triumph of the human spirit

My greatest athletic achievement did not come against another team or player. It was between myself and nature.

Herb Parsons Lake is about 30 miles outside of Memphis. I used to go there a couple of times a week to hike. There is nothing particularly special or spectacular about the lake. The fishing is not great. The views are not great. But what I liked was the solitude. It has a roughly six-mile hiking trail. Many times I would not see a single soul during my entire hike. I liked that. It gave me a chance to clear my mind and think. It was a long enough walk, but not too long. Every time I finished my hike I felt like I had accomplished something. It was about a two-hour walk.

Then six years ago tragedy struck.

It was a warm June day and it had rained a lot. The gates to the lake were open but it appeared there was no one there. Perfect.

I got out of my car and began to walk. Even though it was wet, it was walkable. The trail, like always, was covered with pine straw. While it would seem easy to walk around a big giant lake — just have the water to your left — you actually needed to know where you were going. You would come to lots of forks in the trail, and you had to know which way to go. By this time, I knew the right path by heart.

On this day, I had walked about a mile and half and everything was fine. I was a little wet, but no worries.

I then put my right foot down as I walked down a small muddy hill. I was wearing tennis shoes. My right shoe stuck in the mud. My body tumbled over.

Snap!

The sound of hearing your bone break is like no other sound you will ever hear. I had never heard this sound before but when I heard it on that day I knew, immediately, it was bad. I was in trouble.

I went to the ground and lay in pain.

I tried to get up, but I could only hop a few steps on my good leg before falling down in agony.

After a few moments, I realized I needed help. I screamed out with all my might, but heard no response.

I owned a cell phone, but I did not always have it on me. I have never really liked living in the cell phone age — sometimes I don’t want to be accessible — but on this day, it would have come in handy.

As I lied on my back in pain, my mind started to race. How long will I be here? No one is coming for me. I could be here for days! I screamed out some more, but I knew it was pointless.

Deep down I knew I was not going to die, but it is a funny thing when you are injured and all alone and do not know your future. I swear I had this moment when I looked between the tree leaves and up into the sky when I felt a total calmness inside of me where I felt like I was for the first time in my life actually alive. It’s hard to explain but kind of like what the Dalai Lama told Bill Murray in Caddyshack. “I had received total consciousness!”

Anyways, as I lied on the ground and screamed every so often, my body pulled me toward the lake.

The lake was about 20 yards to my left. I crawled closer to it. It was as if my mind did not know what my body was telling me to do. I had to crawl through about 50 yards of mush before I made it the water.

I was not in too much pain. As long as I did not put pressure on my ankle I was OK.

For a long time, I was able to wade through the water and make my way back to my car and civilization. But wading around this lake, full of small arms and inlets, would take forever. I was going to have to swim.

So, I was swam.

I would not call myself a great swimmer, but I am adequate. My brother Eddie, who passed away, was always the best swimmer in my family. We used to play this game called Sharks and Daises which is a spinoff of Sharks and Minnows which I might explain to you on anther day.

So, I swam and I swam.

The great thing about swimming is you can rest as much as you want.

I would swim for a little while, and then I would rest and float for a little while.

It was frustrating because I would swim for a couple of minutes and then look out and it would appear that I had gotten no closer to the shore. You would not think the waves of a lake would not be too tough to swim through, but they actually make swimming really hard.

So I swam some and then floated some. I was getting there.

I was getting closer and closer.

As I swam to the ranger’s station, I saw two walkers.

“I guess you are wondering what I am doing in this lake,” I said. “Well, I broke my leg and decided to swim across the lake. Can you help me?”

A few minutes later a pair of park rangers came to the shore and pulled me out of the water.

One of them called the ambulance, and they drove me to the ranger’s cabin on a ATV. They also gave me a Coca-Cola.

I still have a metal rod in my ankle because of this experience.

I cannot run anymore. I walk with a slight limp.

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