How we survived a fall from a 90 foot cliff

How we survived a fall from a 90 foot cliff

Couple-Looking-Forward

It was just before midnight on October 27, 2002 and we were standing out on the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Santa Barbara just a few blocks from Clark’s house. Suddenly, the ground beneath our feet began to give way.

That’s when we fell off a 90 foot cliff.

Did we mention it was our first date?

We’ve used the anniversary of the fall every year as a way to remind ourselves that all of life is a gift.  Each day should be seized.  Shortly after our accident we felt this with great intensity.  But it’s hard to maintain that kind of intensity.  That’s why we’ve put a date on the calendar and have said that on that day we’ll remember to celebrate life.

October 27 is our day. It’s a celebration of life.

Our fall occurred in Santa Barbara.  At the time Clark was renting a little house on “the Mesa” in Santa Barbara and his house was just a few steps from the bluffs that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.

Here’s the story, told by the both of us…

The Cliff

Standing at the bottom of the cliff a year later

CLARK:  There had been another girl who had flown out to Santa Barbara to visit me.  A girl from New York who I’d gotten to know over the past year.  We’d seen each other at events and had gotten together for dinner when we’d been in DC a few months earlier.  We decided that we needed to really see if this relationship was going anywhere.

We were talking on the phone and planning the trip.  She booked her flights.

And then I met Monica.

We instantly connected.

When I dropped the other girl off at the airport early on a Sunday morning I went straight to Monica’s house and took her to breakfast.

A week later I took her to breakfast again.  Then we had lunch together.  Then we went to my house and she made dinner for us.  We watched a movie. (Mr. Deeds)

It was around 11 o’clock and not quite ready for the night to end I suggested we walk out to the overlook just a few steps from my house.  From atop the 90 foot cliffs we could sit out and watch the moon glistening on the Pacific Ocean.

And we talked.  We had what you may call the “Defining the Relationship” talk.

We lingered a little longer.  Now it was late.  After midnight.  Not really wanting the night to be over but realizing the night had reached it’s end, we got up to head back.  I suggested we take one last look.  And we walked out to the edge.

What looked to us like solid ground was really badly eroded dirt.

My last memory was realizing we were going to fall.

Monica:  It was a great night, a great day. You know when you are at that magical phase of a relationship, every look, every word is amazing. We we so right together and I could feel it. I remember standing there on the cliff feeling like I was floating then feeling like I was falling. I was! Since it was dark and I had never been to this spot I had no idea what I was in for. As I started to slip the reality set in.

I started sliding and grasping for anything I could hold onto. I hit my shoulder at first and this jolt made me think this was going to be the end of my life. I remembered being so thankful that I was right with God. That there was no need for a last minute prayer of forgiveness because that had been taken care of. I thought of my family and how sad they would be. I was being tossed around like a rag doll and then there was a loud crack on my head and a thought…that is going to hurt! Then nothing.

I woke later on the beach and remembered the fall but assumed it was a dream. I was convinced that I was shipwrecked. Washed up on the beach in the middle of the night…this was the only possible answer. Struggling to stay conscious, I  tried to move and found that I was unable to turn over or sit up. I had three fractures in my pelvis and had several broken ribs. The next few hours passed as minutes as I drifted  in and out of consciousness. I prayed that God would get me off the beach. It was my only hope.

Clark:  Monica remembers the fall.  I don’t.  When I hear her talking about all the thoughts that went through her mind in the seconds of the fall I am amazed by the human mind.  It’s just amazing.  But I have no recollection of the fall.

My last memory was realizing we were about to fall.  My next memory is more than two hours later.  In those two hours I had crawled down the beach the equivalent of 4 city blocks.  I had then crawled up 385 steps back to street level.  I have no recollection of any of this.

My last memory was realizing we were about to fall.  My next memory is seeing headlights in the distance and just trying to get a hand up to wave down the driver.  I lost consciousness again.  I don’t remember a lot of what happened after this.  But apparently the driver did stop and call 911.

I remember emergency crews being on the scene and working on me.  But I had no idea where I was, how I had gotten there, or what had happened to me.

And with no memory of what had happened to me I also had no recollection of the fact that Monica was still laying at the bottom of the cliff.

Finally–and I remember this as clear as can be–as they were pushing my stretcher into the ambulance I had a flashback.  That’s when I was first able to tell them about Monica.

Monica: I was praying that God would get me off that beach.  I couldn’t move.  And in His own way, God did get my off that beach.

The emergency team arrived in what seemed like minutes. After seeing that I was conscious I asked if any of them were church goers.  I wanted someone to pray with. None of them were, so I said that it wouldn’t help. I guess in my pain I didn’t have time to be politically correct. They then told me that my boyfriend was alright and at the hospital. I blurted out “did he say he was my boyfriend?”  I had fallen and I was so happy. Then the momentary elation gave way to the excruciating pain in my back.

Strapped to a backboard they carried me down the beach. Each bump was terrible. As they carried me up the stairs I was terrified that if they dropped me I would be a unwilling louge rider down those 300 steps! As we reached the top a news crew met me and they pushed me into the ambulance. Funny how your body goes into survival mode and until that moment, until I knew I was safe, I wasn’t afraid. In the ambulance the gravity of what had happened started to set in.

Clark: I was in and out of consciousness for a while.  I remember bit and pieces of things.  I don’t really remember being in the ambulance.  But I remember being at the hospital and being completely aware of what had happened.  I had fallen off a cliff with a girl I had just met, JUST started dating, but was already deeply in love with.  I kept asking everyone, “Have you found her yet…. Have you found her yet… Have you found her yet….”

The answer that kept coming back was that they had not.

Then they finally told me that they had found her, that she was on her way to the hospital, and that she was going to be okay.

I had a major head injury.  I had a fractured skull and had been scalped.  There were a lot of people working on my head.

And in my mind I could not escape this terrible fear that they had found her and that something terrible, something very terrible had happened, and that they did not want to share this news with me while they were working on me and have be flip out.

When Monica finally arrived at the ER she was in the room next to me.  A wall with a window, the window covered by a curtain, separated us.  Finally realizing they could shut me up no other way, the medical staff opened the curtain and propped up both me and Monica so we could see each other.

Monica: Clark doesn’t remember the fall but I did. He remembered the hospital but I don’t really. I have just bits and pieces. When I arrived my family was there. They had been called by our pastor and rushed down to the hospital.

A call at 2am in a house with teenagers isn’t cause for too much alarm, but instantly they all knew something was wrong. Everyone in my parent’s house was up. They were told it was bad and the Surgical Search and Rescue team was dispatched to find me, but hadn’t yet.

When I finally arrived they looked terrified. The ER staff told my parents that they had found me in a small patch sand amidst the jagged bolders. Had the tide been high, or had I fallen a bit to the left or right I wouldn’t have made it. There was a lot of crying. Relieved, tired, thankful crying.

Beyond that the next few days are a blur.

Clark: In the ER I had my pastor and my boss.  I don’t know how many people have fallen off a cliff and had their boss in the ER with them at 3:00 o’clock in the morning.  I tend to think it’s a unique experience.  It’s been 5 years since I worked for Floyd but I still consider him a treasured friend.  Later he would even emcee our reception when Monica and I were married.

The next morning he called around to some people in the office and said he wouldn’t be in until later in the day, that’d he’d been at the hospital all night… that “Clark had fallen off a cliff with his girlfriend.”

The universal reply: “Clark has a girlfriend?”

Falling off a cliff is quite the way to announce that you’re in a relationship.  (The Facebook Relationship updates have NOTHING on us!)

I remember the first time I met Monica’s grandfather… I was just putting down my bedpan.

Monica and I had adjacent rooms.  She had a broken pelvis so it was easier for me to get around than her.  So I’d get in my walker and go next door. I remember visitors coming in and saying, “so tell me about this girl…”

I am pretty sure I already knew then that she was to be my wife.

Monica: Those next few days were strange. People came to visit and I told them through a huge smile about Clark. My good friends knew this wasn’t just a boyfriend.

I forced myself to get up and take those three steps that I was required to do for my release. I probably should have spent another day or two in the hospital, but Clark was getting out and I wanted to be out too.

It wasn’t just that we had gone through a life changing experience together, my life was changed.

We fell off a cliff.  90 feet.

We were not the first to fall off that cliff.

We were just the first to survive.

Looking back on the weeks that followed we can only laugh now.

A few days after getting out of the hospital we went to the symphony.  We weren’t the only people at the symphony in walkers.  We were certainly the youngest though!

Both of us were on so much pain medication that we were prohibited from driving.

Monica’s mom would drive us everywhere.  She’d take us to the movies and we’d be sitting in the back seat of the car holding hands like we were 13 again.

The fall binded us us together perhaps more quickly than most couples.  Monica was preparing to move to Ireland for a year at the time.  Her imminent departure also brought about some serious discussions early on.

But looking back neither of us ever doubted that we would be man and wife.

Wedding Day

From the first time we met–and especially after the fall–our wedding day felt like a foregone conclusion.

Surviving an accident like this does change you.

How did we survive our fall from a 90 foot cliff?

God saved us.

It just wasn’t our time yet.  We’re still here for a reason.  And that’s why we make such a point each year to celebrate the anniversary of the fall.  It’s not a celebration of the fall.  It’s a celebration of life.  We celebrate that we’re here and we get to enjoy this wonderful life and this wonderful world.  And the fact that we’re here for a purpose!

The celebration isn’t just for us.

Every breath each of us takes is a gift.

————————–

We’re so thankful for all the life we’ve experienced since The Fall.

Do you know what you want out of life? What you value? Do you know how to arrange your life around the things that you value most?

Check out Clark’s book, unWorking, available now on Amazon! You can get it in paperback for just $14.99 or on Kindle for the CRAZY low price of $3.49. You can also go to unWorkingBook.com to read the Prologue, Introduction, and detailed Chapter Descriptions.

UNWORKING FINAL 6X9 FRONT

  • Lonnie Vandeventer

    I continue to be amazed every time I read or hear the story. I still remember the phone call from your pastor, the call from Monica’s dad to thank us for you watching out for Monica, and seeing you when I flew out to help for a week during your recovery. Much of it is now a blur, but I will always know that God had you both in His hands then and now.

    Dad

    • Thanks, Dad. I had written a Facebook Note a while back documenting the story and tried to write it from the perspective of both Monica and myself. But it was really fun writing the story as we most often tell it: tagteam. I’d write for a while and then turn the computer over to Monica. Then she’d turn it back over to me.

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  • One lesson we learned from the fall is to be a cheerful receiver. For several weeks after our fall we were laid up. There was little we could do ourselves. Thankfully, we had family and friends around us who were so good to us. They stepped in and helped wherever they could.

    Scripture teaches us it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

    Monica and I could have closed ourselves off and insisted that we go it alone. Had we done that, we’d have been robbing our friends of a blessing.

    Our culture puts such a high value on self-sufficiency. We don’t want to be in debt to anyone.

    It’s good to be a cheerful giver. Give whenever you can.

    But also be a cheerful receiver.

  • Carrie Wieland

    Wow,
    God is so good. What an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing your hearts and your story. It has blessed my day. I hope and pray that you will continue to have opportunity to share about the Lord through this and that many, like me, will have their faith in our Lord increased. And Clark I love what you posted afterward about being able to receive. My husband and I learned that early on in our marriage when we had a trial. We are called to love one another and share one another’s burdens, and to give freely. Have an amazing day you two and again thanks. Carrie

    • Thanks, Carrie. We’re all in this together. Give when you can. Happily receive when it’s given.

  • Donna Baysinger

    Dear Clark, Ron and I just read your story for the first time. What a testimony! What a blessing! Thank you for sharing! love, Donna.

  • I can’t lie; I am chuckling. You just met and you fell of a cliff! You don’t make this stuff up folks!

    I suppose since you are doing so well now that it is OK that I am giggling at the whole event. Had it happened after your daughters birth, or on your wedding night, or even 6 months after you met, then there would be nothing funny about it. But on your first date!

    This is a riot. And Monica’s mom driving you both around. MAN, When does the movie come out?

    PS: Glad you both made it! 🙂

    • I know it’s awful but, like Justin, I can’t help but laugh…you know, the incredulous kind. And since we know everything worked out well, there are just so many puns in this story! How many people can say they literally fell for each other? And the fact that you have a “Fall” party is brilliant.

    • Thanks, Justin. As for the movie…. that’s why we have this blog…. we keep waiting for someone to pick up all these stories and turn it into a script. LOL

  • What and amazing tale, and it has certainly lead to something special. I may not have met ya in person, but the way yout write/talk about your wife, your family, and your life its clear to see that it really wasn’t your time and you were meant for bigger and better things down the road. If I’m ever out in Tahoe this season I’ll have to look ya up for a drink sometime. God Bless

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  • Thanks for sharing this amazing story! Wow… praise God you were both okay! And indeed, He saved you for a purpose. So glad you are giving Him the glory and living with gratitude. Nine years ago this month I was about to give birth to our first baby (we’d been married ten months) and my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I am so grateful that he is now healthy and cancer free and that we’ve been given a wonderful life together.

    • Can’t imagine how incredibly heart-wrenching that must have been. Happy that you are making the most of the gift of life you’ve been given. Our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed and when you’ve been smacked in the face with that reality it changes you.

  • What a story! I can understand fully why you celebrate this through a real Fall-party! A story with an impact, what can I say? What can I add through this comment? Well, I never met you in person (yet), but I believe I do have an idea of that reason why you both are still here…

    “Does Clark have a girlfriend?” Hilarious! You can fall off a cliff but still people are mostly interested in your love life…
    Thanks for sharing this intruiging story!

    Emiel

  • Thank you for the reminder to live each moment to the fullest. Your tragedy was a turned gift and your writing about it is our gift.

    Thank you.

    Nancy & Shawn

  • Bahahaha!!! I’ve had a really good laugh reading this Clark as well as being totally amazed by it. (Seems the tribe members have all had a good giggle over it!). Love how the two of you wrote it how you usually tell it. As a good story lover I can appreciate the fun of a whole new audience to share it with. I really hope to NOT ever get that call in the night about one of my children however!!!

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  • This is an amazing story, what a date! Wow, you guys are on the road to forever!

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  • WOW. I never knew about this for some reason. You guys are amazing and this story is amazing. Grateful for your friendship.

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