ATLANTA - Peering over the edge of the enormous tank at Georgia Aquarium, a group of teenagers watch 40 thousand pounds of marine life maneuver effortlessly through the water. It is a wonder.
So is each special visitor about to join them.
A dive master named Nikki helps prepare the group from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. They’re going to side-by-side swim along with you guys.” She smiles at the teenagers in front of her. “It is going to be awesome!”
Telven Vann flashes a big smile and gives her thumbs up. He is a 16-year-old from Savannah who doctors thought would never be able to communicate again.
"I’ve been through a lot in the past few months," he said.
His friend Liz Pentecost, who is 15, is right beside him. They have become friends as they’ve been in the CHOA therapy program together.
Liz is excited, “I’ve never swim with like fish before!”
Being here together is a big step in fighting back from circumstances they could’ve never seen coming.
In the tunnel beneath the tank, their moms wait to see them pass overhead.
“It’s amazing.” Liz’s mom said. “She’s having a great time.”
No words can fully explain what Liz’s smile means to her mom. After a recent lacrosse practice, Liz felt a strange sensation in her legs.
"I have a spinal cord injury disease so basically I didn’t do anything to cause it. It just happened,” Liz said. She spent 50 days at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Liz has not taken a step since. Yet in the water she looks free. She is happy. She waves to her mom.
“It’s very special,” she added. ”We’re so grateful that she gets this opportunity.”
Telven’s Mom, Lashiana Vann spots her son close by. “That’s him up there.” She points. “He just went by.”
If only the other people at the Georgia Aquarium knew the true marvels this day are not the fish.
Vann said, “They have no idea of the road he walked. We’re still on that road, but thank God, I can see growth and progress.”
Telven’s life nearly ended during a pick-up basketball game.
A stray bullet hit him in the temple and traveled to the base of his head. There was little hope that he’d even survive.
Telven remembers what doctors said about his prognosis. “They said I wasn’t going to be able to talk. They said I wasn’t going to be able to remember and I wasn’t going to be able to walk.”
No one ever considered the possibility that he’d be swimming. Yet here he is, right alongside the Gentle Giants in the Ocean Voyager tank.
“He sees me waving.”
Lashiana Vann has a hard time keeping her tears back. Happy tears. Grateful tears.
“He’s smiling. I’m smiling, I’m excited for him,” she said. Vann thinks back to all those days, it was so grim. “To be told that he wasn’t going to be able to do nothing and to see him do this; I’m in awe.”
Liz comes out of the water and is back in her wheelchair. The glow from her experience is still with her. “It’s really cool seeing all the fish swimming below you, one even bumped me,” she laughed.
Telven can’t stop smiling either. “Beautiful. The whale shark bumped me,” he said.
What Telven and Liz face every day takes monumental physical strength. To do it with joy and gratefulness is a strength far greater. They are truly a wonder.
Liz says she’ll never forget this experience. “It felt almost like my legs worked, I felt like I could kick my legs and actually do it by myself, swim myself,” she added, “I felt free.”
The exact word on Telven’s heart too. “Free.” He smiled again. “I feel like I came so far.”
If you have a Brave Conquers Fear story to share with Cheryl Preheim, let her know at email@example.com
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