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In 1997, Reilly Rankin, was an all-American golfer as a freshman at the University of Georgia. In her sophomore year, she was set back by an appendectomy, hernia repair and treatment for endometriosis. Having recovered from these procedures, her and a group of friends ventured out onto Lake Martin, just north of Montgomery, Alabama. They were looking for a place called Chimney Rock. It was a popular site from which to jump and dive.

It only took them 10 minutes to find Chimney Rock. When Reilly saw it, her first thought was, “It’s not that big.” She swam to the rock and climbed past a cautious-jumper’s ledge 20 feet above the water. She went all the way to the top, 70 feet up. From there, she looked down at her friends in the boat and thought, “Whoa, this is high.”

Once on the ledge, she realized she had no where to go but into the water; it seemed riskier to climb down than to jump. But she couldn’t bring herself to do either.

Two young boys climbed up when they saw her peer over the edge. They showed her the running start needed to clear the cliff’s edge. In the air, one said, “Be like a pencil [when you enter the water].

After half an hour, Reilly threw herself off the rock. Right away she knew she’d done it badly. She wasn’t being a pencil. She was running in the air. She wouldn’t slide into the water. She would crash into it.

She landed on her hind end and flipped forward smacking her upper body against the water, which at her falling speed was like concrete. She had two broken vertebrae, a broken sternum and bruises to her heart, lungs and aorta. She might have been paralyzed had either of the two broken vertebrae moved another half centimeter. She wanted to know two things, “Am I going to die?” “Am I going to be able to play golf again?”

Today, she is practicing with the golf team again. She says, “Chimney Rock is the best thing that ever happened to me. If I hadn’t broken my back and bruised my heart and cracked my sternum, I’d have never known how family, friends and love can bring you through anything. With this and the surgeries the year before, people say, ‘Oh, you’re the most unlucky person.’ They’re wrong. I’m the luckiest person alive.”

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