MODESTO -- Steve Davis can tell you all about the depths. He knows them well.
The 24-year-old Turlock resident can tell you what it's like to get wrapped around a streetlight pole after a driver made an abrupt turn in front of his motorcycle.
He can explain in great detail what it's like to feel something pressing against his face and then discovering it's his gnarled right leg. In a strange, surreal moment of time, parts of him that used to be inside were now outside.
He can describe what it's like to endure more than 30 operations, to have to learn to dress and take care of himself all over again.
And he can reveal how painkillers possessed him. They dominated his mind and body. They threatened his future, his life.
Yes, the depths.
We also know that every inspiring story involves turning points. In Davis' case, they came in the form of a moment of tough love from his father and a phone call from out of the blue, both of which we'll get to momentarily.
First, the background:
Davis grew up in Ceres and attended Ceres High, dropping out in 2006, though he went on to earn his general education development certificate. He joined the Navy that same year and became an aviation engineer aboard various nuclear-powered supercarriers, including the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Abraham Lincoln and, lastly, the USS John Stennis.
Just before embarking on a cruise in the spring of 2008, he bought a Honda VTX 1300 Cruiser motorcycle.
As the carrier prepared to return to San Diego to end its six-week assignment, Davis was able to fly back from the USS John Stennis to the mainland two days early. The motorcycle beckoned.
"I was dying to go riding," he said, obviously unaware at the time that the ride would nearly kill him.
Shortly after his plane landed, he and a buddy took their motorcycles out for a spin and, after five hours, found themselves in Point Loma around 10:30 p.m.
"We decided to go to Mission Valley," Davis said. "It's about a 15-mile drive."
As they neared their destination, a driver suddenly made an illegal left turn directly into his path, he said.
"I locked up my brakes to avoid hitting her," Davis said. "My front tire hit the curb and it slingshotted me through the air, over the handlebars."
The driver kept going, either unaware, unconcerned or in sheer panic.
"We'll never know," Davis said.
Otherwise, she should have stopped to help after his catapulted body slammed so horribly into a streetlight pole. The term "life-threatening" couldn't begin to describe the physical damage.
His right leg wrapped around the metal pole, bending the knee completely backward.
"I was laying there on the ground, the wind knocked out," he said. "My vision was covered (by the leg)."
The impact shattered his pelvis, and internal parts lay on the ground next to him.
"When I reached up to take my helmet off, and I realized my hand was broken," he said. "I felt like Iron Man, blown up by my own missile."
Put into a coma
He slipped in and out of consciousness on the way to the hospital, where they induced him into a coma. When he came out of it a month later, the damage report included a severed sciatic and other nerves, a total knee blowout, and torn hamstring and groin muscles. Doctors used a dozen bolts and screws to rebuild his bone structure, he said.
"I lost complete motor function below the knee," Davis said.
Suddenly, deployment to Afghanistan a possibility before the accident would have been a welcome alternative to spending seven months in the hospital, during which time he lost 65 pounds.
Now into 2009, they moved him from the civilian hospital to a military rehabilitation facility, which didn't recognize prescriptions written by civilian doctors.
"I went from heavy doses to nothing," he said. "Extreme withdrawals. I think I'm dying."
And during a visit, father Jim Davis of Modesto uttered the words the tough love that defined Steve's new existence.
"You're an addict now," he told his son.
"I went back to my barracks room and flushed all of the medications down the toilet," Steve said. "I haven't touched any kind of opiate since. What he said really hit home. There were people I knew growing up who became addicts. I didn't want to be like that. I went cold turkey. I had a week of withdrawals, and after that, (the pain) was something I can deal with, cope with."
He regained some use of his rebuilt right leg and can stand for longer periods of time if he uses an orthotic brace.
Unable to return to active duty, the Navy retired him. He returned to Modesto to face his limitations and ponder his future.
"I went into a depressed state," he said. "I wasn't involved in anything for two years."
His brothers stepped in and tried to motivate him by getting him to work out. He moved out of his parents' home in Modesto and into an apartment in Turlock.
Channel surfing while home one day this past summer, he came upon a show about paralympians.
"I saw this guy pouring his heart out about competing," he said. He told his father about the show.
A week later, his phone rang. The caller said he represented the Navy's Safe Harbor Program and described the Wounded Warrior games, paralympic competitions specifically for those disabled while in the military.
Would Davis be interested in competing?
"Did my dad call you?" Davis wondered.
"No," the official replied, who found Davis' name on a list of retired Navy veterans. "Why?"
"Because I just saw the paralympics on TV and seven days later, you're calling me," Davis told him.
Love of competition
And for the record, yes, Davis wanted to participate. He never thought to ask about specific sports or events. He'd been a multisport athlete in high school and played baseball while in the Navy. He loved to compete.
In October, he received another call. They had booked his flight to the Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials on Nov. 12-17 in Hawaii, all expenses paid. During the flight over, he struck up a conversation with a young woman sitting next to him.
"She was a single-leg amputee," Davis said. "A gold medalist who's been involved (in Wounded Warrior competitions) for over a year. A gold medalist."
The next morning, he felt like he was back on active duty. Training sessions at the Navy's Pearl Harbor base began at 6 a.m. and lasted until 9 p.m. Swimming, archery, wheelchair basketball, air rifle marksmanship and volleyball. All but basketball were new to him.
The trials began a few days later. By the time they ended, he'd qualified to represent the Navy and Coast Guard in the military-wide Wounded Warrior Games in Colorado Springs in May 2013. He'll compete in archery, two swimming events he won the 50-meter backstroke event in Hawaii wheelchair basketball and sit-down volleyball. He's an alternate in the air rifle event.
"It's hard for me to explain," he said. "Doctors told me I'd never walk again. I'd pretty much given up. I was smoking and not working out. But being around these people
nobody knew the word 'quit.' Listening to their stories brought tears to my eyes. For the first time since my accident, I saw a huge light at the end of the tunnel. My long-term goal now is to compete nationally and globally. I see endless opportunity. What this has done for me is unexplainable."
Or maybe not. It's brought him back from the depths.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.