Connor Sanders is known for being adventurous. The recent Nevada Union High School graduate loves climbing and exploring the outdoors.
So when he and his mother decided in early July to take a day hike around Oregon Creek near Camptonville, he expected to be in for another of his typical outdoors excursions.
“As we were hiking downstream, my mom and I came across a really cool waterfall that I wanted to check out,” he said.
“As I was climbing back up, I made it about halfway when I got stuck and realized that this was a really bad idea because the rocks were loose and shale, so I decided to turn around.
“I was holding onto a rock with my left hand and as I switched from my left to my right hand, to turn my body to climb down, the rock peeled off and that’s when I fell.”
Seventy feet below, Sanders fell into a creek after his body slammed into rock and sustained several wounds on the way down.
He said he was struggling to stay afloat and in a massive amount of pain, but he held firmly onto his faith to get him through it.
“I didn’t think I was going to die,” Sanders said.
“I went with it second by second, knowing God was right there with me. I tried to have a positive attitude about it, just hoping the time could go by faster. I didn’t go into shock and I didn’t lose consciousness. I remember everything perfectly well. In the end, faith is what kept me sane.
“As I was falling, I put my feet out in front of me and tried to keep my body as straight as possible so I wouldn’t hit my head, but the impact was so hard it threw me into a front flip. I covered my head and hit a rock with my arms and then bounced into the 40-foot-deep creek. I was completely underwater and just freaked out. I was screaming from the pain and adrenaline but mainly from being so scared. I knew I had to get out, so I pushed and pulled myself onto the rocks on my stomach and shouted for my mom’s attention. I looked back over my shoulder and that’s when I saw my feet …”
Looking down at his feet as he shared his story, both were wrapped in large medical boots and both had come a long way in the healing process from the gory condition following his fall.
Sanders suffered compression fractures in his lower back and a broken wrist, but it was his feet that sustained the worst of his injuries.
The skin on his left foot was completely torn away and he experienced multiple fractures, as well as muscle and tissue loss. The top and heel of his right foot were both broken, with the heel shattered into five pieces.
Sanders said he was stuck at the site for two hours before anyone could get to him, when he was eventually airlifted to Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento and taken straight into surgery.
“My time spent in the hospital was probably the worst part for me,” he said.
“It was hard being alone in such a confusing time.”
Though he might have been physically alone, Sanders said he received, and is still receiving, an overwhelming amount of support from his friends, family and even people who don’t personally know him.
Hundreds of Facebook posts, texts and phone calls made it clear many members of the community had him in their thoughts.
Word of his fall and recovery went “viral” when film producer and friend Jesse Eckel documented a moving clip of Sanders speaking from his hospital bed about the incident and the important role his faith played in his perseverance through his pain and his road to recovery still ahead.
“All the support was really reassuring,” Sanders said.
“It was so nice when people came to visit me because I had someone to talk and laugh with. For the most part I didn’t even think about my feet, it was like a little getaway from reality.”
Sanders remained hospitalized for two weeks following the July 5 fall.
“Our family was shaking with excitement when he finally came home,” said Brandy Sanders, Connor’s stepmother.
“I would put it close to Christmas morning; it was a truly joyous moment,” she said as she wiped a tear away from her cheek.
“Connor really inspired me to never take anything for granted,” said Sanders’ girlfriend, Emma Potter, who learned of the accident when she was on the other side of the country.
“We could have lost him when he fell, and it’s a miracle that we didn’t. You never know when something might disappear forever, so make sure to hold on to it tight while it’s still here.”
Sanders was set to start at Sierra College this fall but is taking a semester off while he recovers and said he may take some classes online.
He will soon be starting physical therapy for his feet and hopes to be able to walk again in about three months.
He said it will be about a year until he can perform more strenuous physical activity.
“This accident won’t stop me from doing everything I’ve done before. I want to get back into shape as fast as I can,” he said.
“I am able to notice so much more around me,” he said, reflecting on how he’s been changed by the accident.
“I highly value the time I spend with my loved ones and I’ve become more thoughtful. In the end, though, I just feel blessed.”
Maya Anderman, a Nevada Union High School graduate, is working as an intern with The Union newsroom. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.