Champion swimmer who suffered spinal injury checks out of rehab - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Champion swimmer who suffered traumatic spinal injury checks out of rehab

Daren Choi Daren Choi

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was a special day for a star athlete who suffered a traumatic spinal injury in a fall this summer. Daren Choi, considered one of Hawaii's fastest high school swimmers before the accident, checked out of rehab on his own two feet Tuesday.

He moves a little slowly for a guy who has smashed speed records in Hawaii high school swimming. But after fracturing three vertebrae and bruising his spinal cord in a fall two months ago, getting around on his feet is a huge milestone for Daren Choi, 16.

"That was a big relief when I got to start walking," he said. "I really liked that."

In late June, the Pearl City High student traveled to Western Samoa and competed against swimmers from around the world. He captured three medals, and then everything changed.

While sightseeing with his teammates, he plunged 15 feet off a rock into shallow water.

"I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and just slipped and fell," he said.

He returned to Hawaii and spent the past seven weeks at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific. With no guarantee that he'd ever regain full mobility, Choi endured grueling therapy and never lost hope.

"I was literally not walking and not really doing anything on my own, so I used that as motivation to keep me going," he said.

He says that determination came from his sports training.

"My coaches always teach us to do your best in everything you do," Choi said. "So in therapy, I always try my best."

With a halo brace still screwed into his skull to provide support, he talks about his goal of returning to competitive swimming.

"I had like couple dreams I was swimming again and stuff like that, just like flashbacks of when I was swimming, when I won," he said.

As he checks out of the rehab hospital, Choi says he no longer takes anything for granted.

"How do you think you're a different person because you went through this experience?" this reporter asked.

"I think I got to learn about myself more because I learned what I wanted most in life was to walk again, be normal," he said.

Doctors are scheduled to examine Choi in two weeks to determine when the halo brace can be removed.

More about this story on HawaiinewsNow.com:

Championship swimmer's recovery makes strides

Champion swimmer fighting to recover from devastating fall

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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