His head crashed against the smooth river stones as his body crumpled below the cool waters of the Cahaba. Paralyzed, his limbs hung still. He would not resurface on his own.
Aid came within moments and as a family member dragged him to the shoreline, a 911 operator dispatched an emergency medical flight. The damage had already been done.
“We were swimming in the river and there was a swing,” said Kelly Ricks, a mechanic at Alabama’s Vance Quarry. “I tried it, but didn’t realize there was only 3 feet of water. When I landed, my head was pushed into my chest and I overextended my spine.”
There were no broken bones, but severe ligament damage stripped Ricks of any feeling in his arms and legs for several days.
Kelly Ricks recovers after a June 28 diving accident.
Lying in intensive care at Birmingham’s UAB Hospital, he slowly grew stronger. Still, nearly two weeks would pass before he could be transferred to the city’s Spain Rehabilitation Center. There, doctors painted a dismal picture fraught with challenges.
“I’m getting back slowly. It’s going to take a lot of time,” Ricks said. “The doctors say any muscle strength I don’t regain in the next year will probably be lost forever.”
Wheelchair-bound, Ricks began his fight to return to a normal life. His first battle came at the house he shares with his wife, April, and their 4-year-old granddaughter. To enter the home, Ricks would have to find his way up a small flight of stairs.
When Vance Quarry Plant Manager Tony Gay learned of the dilemma, he involved his team.
“I just mentioned that the doctors wouldn’t let him go home until they knew he could get inside,” Gay said. “One night, after a 10-hour shift in the hot sun, these guys brought the supplies to his house and worked until dark.”
After work the following day, the team of Jimmie Buford, Shane Martin, Josh Sloan, Chris Whitehorn and Adam Williams returned, completing work on a wooden ramp that made Ricks’ house wheelchair-accessible.
“It was pretty emotional for me,” Ricks said. “I thank God for that ramp.”
A team of co-workers from Vance Quarry work to build a ramp at Kelly Ricks' home.
Beyond the ramp, for which materials were donated by the Company, employees at Vance and elsewhere in the Southeast Division took it upon themselves to collect money for the Ricks family. In some cases, those who donated have no connection to the 43-year-old miner.
Gay said Ricks’ positive attitude about his work, his co-workers and his friends goes a long way toward explaining why so many have been willing to help.
“He’s a super guy and he’s always got a smile on his face,” Gay said. “These guys are a big family and Kelly is loved. Everyone has been happy to pitch in.”
Ricks, who continues to recover with his wife by his side, said he’s thankful for the support he’s received. Though he knows there are difficult days ahead, he said he loves working at Martin Marietta and hopes to return when he’s able.
"I want everyone at Martin Marietta to know: ‘No matter where, be safety aware,’” Ricks said. “We talk about safety during meetings and every day on the job and had I taken those lessons home with me, this wouldn’t have happened. I want everyone at Martin Marietta to carry their safety lessons home.”