At the crest of the hill, a wide ribbon of asphalt beckoned the skateboarder; an irresistible promise of adventure. As the young man descended with purpose into the setting sun, the breeze urging momentum, an unknown malicious hand stretched out to change the course of Sean McClintock's life.
"I'm going down the side of the road, like a bike lane," the 28-year-old said as he thought back to the assault on Road 44 in Pasco. "A car comes up — eyewitnesses say they honked their horn — and then someone reached out the back window of this car, grabs me by my collar and pulls me backwards on my skateboard."
The unthinkable act sent Sean's skateboard flying, his head colliding with the asphalt while his body twisted simultaneously.
"They drove away," Sean said, his memory of that day shattered forever. "Eyewitnesses pulled over and a guy got out of his car — he used to be a priest — and he was holding my head."
Forgotten is the river of red, the whine of sirens and the brutal moment his carefree life flipped upside down.
It had been a spontaneous decision to step from the family car and skateboard down the hill that September evening, Sean promising his wife and 15-month-old daughter he would meet them at their friend's home. But it was a choice that changed everything, including his perspective.
"I take it as I'm here for a reason," Sean said as he considers his 2015 near-death experience and traumatic brain injury. "If I were to be mad at them, they would be able to consume my life, and I'd rather have positivity and optimism because then I'm happy as opposed to being a person who's not."
His emotions are magnified, a result of the horrific brain injury, but Sean deals with his feelings through measured breathing and yoga. Instead of bitterness, this elementary school paraprofessional has chosen purpose, one he hopes will help others and change attitudes about wearing safety helmets. Sean talks openly about his life-saving surgery, an induced 10-day coma followed by a lengthy hospital stay and subsequent therapy in Spokane. A long scar bears witness to the section of skull removed to save his life.
"I'm in a perfect place to share my testimony and let these kids know about some of these experiences I've had in life and how they can treat their brain with as much care as possible," Sean said, noting he has been invited into classrooms to speak. "I'll see them heading home on their scooters or bikes without helmets, and sometimes I'll be able to stop them and have 'the talk' with them."
The young father sets an example by faithfully wearing a helmet in any sport, whether it's an afternoon of flag football with friends, bicycling, skateboarding or spending a day on the Columbia River wakeboarding. Being able to return to these activities has been part of his therapy, but it has meant adapting to his new circumstance by omitting extreme moves.
"I can't go bicycling and trying back flips anymore like I used to do because there's that risk of landing on my head," Sean said matter-of-factly. "I'll tone it down to riding my bicycle to get from one location to another because I still like riding bicycles."
During his more than two years of recovery, Sean has been inspired by another adrenaline junkie whose life took a tragic turn — Kevin Pearce, a snowboarder who suffered a near fatal traumatic brain injury while training for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Kevin and his brother have since co-founded the LoveYourBrain Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is on a mission to help those affected by traumatic brain injury and also educate people to live a brain healthy lifestyle.
In quiet moments since meeting this inspiring man, Sean reflects on the reason his own life was spared.
"I'm a believer in God, and I was kept around for a reason," Sean said thoughtfully, emotion playing on his face. "Everyone has a purpose, and after the injury that I had — or near-death experience I had — I'm trying to find my purpose."
He compared the steps he's made — and will make — to a challenging uphill climb: "It's like Mt. Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington, and I need to get up that mountain to get where I'm going ... and I have a long way to go, but I'm on the right track."
Without doubt, God's hand will help him reach the top.
Matthew 17:20: "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." (NLT)
Lucy Luginbill is a career television producer-host and the Spiritual Life editor for the Tri-City Herald. In her column, she reflects on the meaning of her name, "Light Bringer." If you have a story idea for Light Notes, contact her at email@example.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.