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Filed under: video of paralyzed Mormon's annual birthday dive has become a viral inspiration

Rochester Institute of Technology diving coach and a Mormon, Cliff Devries, makes his annual birthday dive.
Rochester Institute of Technology diving coach and a Mormon, Cliff Devries, makes his annual birthday dive.
Youtube screengrab

One man's annual birthday dive into a pool has become a viral inspiration.

Cliff Devries was once a nationally-ranked, all-American diver who dreamed of competing in the Olympics. But shortly after returning from a Mormon mission to Argentina in 1995, he had surgery to remove a tumor near his brain stem and was left paralyzed for a period of his life.

With rehab and time, Devries was able to regain the ability to walk. About 10 years ago, decided to give himself a birthday present each year: one dive into the pool.

"Ever since then I've decided to do it on my birthday," said Devries, who was married in 2009.

A video posted by of Devries' most recent birthday dive has been viewed by millions and inspired many in the process. It shows Devries, the diving coach at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), climb the ladder and make the dive with help from student-athletes and lifeguards. His story was also shared by

"I've never really seen it as an inspirational thing. It's just a lot of fun for me to get up on the board and be back in the water," Devries said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. "The fact that it has blown up to be a large thing where a lot of people can say this is something that is good and helped them, that's just an extra bonus for me."

Devries was a two-time high school All-American at Rush Henrietta in New York and went to the University of Kentucky on a diving scholarship but left school after one semester when he felt pain in his shoulder and couldn't lift his right arm above his head, according to

Devries lived with the problem while serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, and scheduled an MRI shortly after returning home in early 1995.

When the MRI results came back, his parents told him to sit down for the bad news. Doctors were shocked that he was walking and even breathing, and expected him to live less than a year.

"Cliff, you are going to die," they told him.

"I said, 'Well, you know what, what better time to go?' I just served a faithful mission and I am very happy with the work I've done in Argentina, and I'm ready to go," Devries recalled. "I was at peace with whatever happened. That was one major help in the process."

Following the surgery, Devries was left in a wheelchair, completely paralyzed from the neck down. He said his faith was a major source of strength in the years following his surgery.

"I couldn't move at all," Devries said. "I had a priesthood blessing. I had wonderful family and a ward that supporting me. I never felt alone in the process. I felt the Spirit in my life throughout the entire ordeal. I was extremely blessed. My faith in the Savior Jesus Christ has been a major source of help throughout the rest of the time of my paralysis."

After a few years Devries regained feeling in his left side and was able to walk. He decided it was time to get back on the diving board. Around that time, while doing his physical therapy at RIT, the swimming coach asked if he would coach diving, which he has done since 1999.

Devries says his faith has continued to sustain him.

"Having a testimony is the most important thing you can have with you because at one point or another in your life, everything else will fall apart, and your testimony will hold you together," he said.