VCHS graduate Ryan Kleiman recovering after surfing accident - Former Jaguar quarterback suffers broken vertebrae, expected to make full recovery
Ryan Kleiman says he's lucky to be alive after breaking his neck in a surfing accident.
July 24, 2013Ryan Kleiman took some big hits as the starting quarterback for the Valley Center varsity football team over the last two years, and he always got back up.
But when the recently-graduated VCHS alum took one of the biggest hits the Pacific Ocean could throw his way, he almost didn't make it back to his feet.
"I thought I was going to drown," he says. "I tried to yell for help, but no one could hear me."
The six-foot-three, 195-pound Kleiman began the day, as he had nearly every day he can remember, by hitting the beach with his surfboard.
But in the blink of an eye, he found himself fighting for his life.
"I was in a barrel and I tried to get more speed to go up on top of the wave," he says. "But I went a little too high and the wave grabbed me and threw me headfirst into a sandbar. My neck broke my fall and my body did a full flip over the top of me. I was laying in about two inches of water and I tried to yell for help, but I couldn't talk. I thought I was going to black out.
Kleiman recently returned to the Carlsbad beach, where he had his accident, to take some photos for his friends.
"But finally somebody came along and my friends put me on a board and pushed me in to shore," he continues. "I was able to walk home from there, but as soon as I laid down, I knew it was bad because I couldn't move."
Kleiman went to the hospital and underwent the full gamut of medical attention before it was determined that he fractured his C-3 vertebra in two places. The C-3 vertebra is a critical part of the body's brain and nervous functions, and Kleiman says that he's aware of how much more serious his injuries could be.
"The doctor told me that breaking it in one place means you could die," he says. "So to break it twice in essentially the same place, I'm lucky to be alive."
His mother, Sarah, is understandably emotional when she thinks about how serious her son's injuries could have been.
"When we were in the hospital at first, my biggest concern was paralysis," she says. "We were so lucky that he wasn't paralyzed. But the nurse said, 'Honey, he's lucky to be alive.' I had no idea the severity of breaking the C-three."
Despite how bad it could have been, Kleiman says that the doctors tell him he's on track for a full recovery.
"It'll take a minimum of three months for the bone to heal," he says. "And I might have torn some ligaments, so they're going to see if I need surgery for that. Then after that heals, I'll have physical therapy for a while. But they expect a full recovery."
Kleiman was the starting quarterback for the varsity football team for the past two years, and was a key member of the varsity basketball team in both seasons as well. After graduating this spring, he had recently moved to Oceanside in preparation for his freshman year at Mira Costa College, where he says he hadn't planned on pursuing any collegiate sports, other than surfing in his free time.
Those plans haven't changed, despite the close call on the beach in Carlsbad two Sundays ago.
"I decided to go to Mira Costa partly because I'd get to live closer to the coast so I could go surfing," he says. "I've been surfing since I was little, probably since I was five or so when my dad pushed me into the water. I just bought a new surfboard, so I'm planning to get back out there as soon as I can."
He also says that his longtime surfing experience has helped him keep a healthy respect for the waves he rides, and that he still sticks to one big rule when he's in the water.
"Never dive in the ocean because you don't want to break your neck," he says. "Unfortunately, I had no choice about going headfirst because the wave took me over. But it's not like I could have done anything about it; I think it was just one of those freak accidents to have a wave grab onto me like it did."
Kleiman was very gracious in allowing his experience to be recounted, despite being, by nature, a mostly private person. In light of this, his family says that they are most appreciative of the concern and support of the community, but that they feel it's best to let Ryan recover quietly for a while.
"We're just so happy he's OK and that the doctors expect a full recovery," Sarah says. "We want to thank everyone for their prayers and thoughts, but we do want to ask everyone to respect his privacy as you keep him in your prayers."