Injured 'Sports Junkie' Maintains His Focus

By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Through a window near his wheelchair, 17-year-old Nick Cafferky can see the top of a 20-foot-tall chain-link fence that wraps around a full-size basketball court in the back yard of his Great Falls home.

Four 35-foot light poles tower above the green court, and another hoop in the driveway is lowered to "dunking level."

This had been Cafferky's haven, where he became what Langley High School boys' basketball Coach Travis Hess called a "sports junkie."

In August, Cafferky was swimming in Dewey Beach, Del. He dived into a wave, and everything changed.

"When I hit the sand, I heard a crack, and I immediately knew what had happened," said Cafferky, who was paralyzed in the Aug. 12 accident. "I realized I couldn't move, and I started taking water. . . . I was almost positive I was going to die. I wasn't scared about it. I had already accepted that I was done. In the water, I had accepted it."

Cafferky was rescued by lifeguards, but his spinal column was crushed at the C-5 vertebra, leaving him a quadriplegic, with no movement or feeling below his chest and with fair motion in his arms and limited control of his fingers.

Before the accident, Cafferky was a referee, coach and player with Great Falls Basketball, a youth league, where he befriended Langley varsity basketball players and played with six of them on the Great Falls Rapids, a select travel team.

There's a separation now, however, between basketball memories from before the accident and after.

"There was only one sad time in all this," said Nick's mother, Elisa. "It was between Nick and his dad."

In the family's living room, from beneath his sideways-cocked baseball cap, Cafferky shifted his eyes toward his father, Mike.

"He was just getting to a point where he could swat me and then taunt me in front of all my friends," Mike Cafferky said, as he recounted the moment that he and his 6-foot-4 son realized there would be less use for the backyard playground they had designed six years ago.

"This is one of the things where I'm surprised with myself," Nick Cafferky said. "I'm not bitter about not being able to play; I just enjoy watching it right now."

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