PEARL CITY (HawaiiNewsNow) - A high-school champion swimmer is sitting up and smiling after his horrific fall in June. Hawaii News Now caught up with the swimmer of what he could remember when he was injured in Samoa and about his rehabilitation progress.
16-year-old Daren Choi flew to Western Samoa to compete in the 8th annual Oceania Swimming Championships. He earned three medals and was the most decorated individual Hawaii swimmer among competitors from 13 different countries. He and the rest of the Kamehameha Swim Club wanted to enjoy the rest of their stay in Samoa and sailed to Savaii Island on a sightseeing tour.
Choi remembers climbing among rocks with some of his team members to reach a freshwater cave. Just when they knew that they were too high up from the ground and were going the wrong way, he placed all of his weight on a dead tree trunk, giving way to his 15-foot fall.
"I saw the water when I flipped so I immediately knew that I had to cover my head, because I knew there was coral down there. I thought that I covered my head and then when I was in the water, I like tried to move but I couldn't move my whole body so I was like freaking out. I thought that I was going to die right there and drown but luckily my friends were there to help me and pull me back out," said Choi.
Tired from all of the transporting and scared that he could not move his body, Choi's heart dropped and was devastated when he found out that the daily boat that travels from Savaii to Samoa had already left for the day, leaving Choi overnight on the island without a proper medical facility.
Back at home Daren's father, Derrick, remembers when he heard that Daren had fractured sections of his spine. Doctors told Derrick that his son may have to stay in New Zealand for a month or two, forcing him and his wife to relentlessly think of ways to travel overseas. In tremendous pain, Daren yearned to talk to his family for some support.
"I think the first time I talked to my dad was when they transported me back to Western Samoa and I got on the phone with him and immediately, I broke out in tears because I couldn't hold it in," he said.
Derrick remembers saying hello and hearing his son cry. Since Daren was advised not to move, Derrick remembers trying to comfort his son while being thousands of miles away. The news about the accident spread to family and friends the Chois were overwhelmed by the love and support.
Still wearing a steel halo, Daren says that he could not have made it this far without his support system of family, friends, coaches and swim team family. Hawaii's state swimming championships were in June and the entire team wore a special cap in spirit of their recovering team mate. In Japanese tradition, it is said that by folding a thousand origami cranes it helps a person's recovery process. His team mates folded and framed a thousand cranes, arranging the cranes to form the swim clubs symbol. Daren sees it every day in his rehabilitation room as a reminder to keep pushing.
One doctor told Daren that he may never walk again and Daren says he has used the doctor's scary diagnosis as motivation.
"I try not to think of him because it kind of brings me down but I always keep it as motivation, you know like to prove him wrong. I want to go back [to him] and like shake his hand and say what now."
As hard as it is to continue his rehab exercises, Daren says that he is continuing to keep his head up in order to get back in the water to swim.
"It's pretty much my life you know. I love it. I love the sport. I love to race, you know just getting back out there with my friends. Racing against the big dogs and everything, I love it."
Daren's medical bills has exceeded more than $100,000. Choi's family and friends have organized fundraiser benefits to help alleviate the costs. A Zippy's fundraiser on behalf of Daren will start on August 15th. Several swimmers will be out in front of Don Quijote selling $7 tickets. To reserve to tickets, you can email Dane Kawamoto at firstname.lastname@example.org. A family fun day will be held on August 21st at the Momilani Community Center from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. The Kamehameha Swim Club have also set up an account, "KSC Friends of Daren Choi" at First Hawaiian Bank.