'It's not worth it': Colchester woman shatters spine cliff jumping

Published: Jul. 16, 2019 at 5:44 PM EDT
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A young Colchester woman remains hospitalized with a shattered spine after a day of fun on Lake Champlain went horribly wrong. Now, she has a message for her peers about the dangers of cliff jumping that she hopes will help save a life.

"I regret every decision that I made on that day to do that," said Kerrigan Davis. The 20-year-old and three friends were cliff jumping in Niquette Bay State Park in Colchester Sunday when she decided to leap off the tallest cliff.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: If you had known it was 70-feet, would you have jumped?

Kerrigan Davis: Oh, no. God no... But I also wanted to be the daredevil, because one of my guy friends wasn't doing it and I wanted to show him up a little bit, you know?

So, she jumped. "And when I finally hit the water, it was just -- I don't even know how to describe it. Like I thought I was okay, but then I just started feeling this numbing sensation, and I was like, something's not right. My friends were doing this jump five times in a row, why am I the unlucky one? Why did this happen to me?" she said.

"Adrenaline just kicked in at that point," said Anne Stetson, one of Davis' friends who heard her screams for help and pulled her from the water. "I see my friend in pain and I see her in a state I've never seen her in before -- and these sounds of pain that I haven't heard, and it's terrifying."

Kerrigan was taken to UVM Medical Center, not sure if she would ever move normally again. Doctors told her she had broken one of her vertebrae and bone shards were digging into her spinal nerve. Her feet were in serious pain -- all of it just from hitting the water wrong. "My impact was merely from the water -- I didn't strike anything else," Davis said.

"We've been seeing around four a summer, at least," said Jennifer Gratton, the medical center's trauma program manager. She says this year has been busy and they've already had three people hospitalized with injuries from cliff jumping. Others were also treated in the ER and discharged. She says she hopes people who hear Kerrigan's story learn from it -- That no cliff is safe. "One of the best ways to prevent injuries is to see it from someone firsthand, what can happen."

Kerrigan's surgery is set for Wednesday morning. After that, she has months of recovery ahead. Something her mom, Lynnette, says they'll do together. "The last thing I said to her when she walked out the door was, 'Have fun, be safe, don't do anything stupid,'" Lynnette recalled. "As a mother, you want to -- 'Gah!' -- and then you want to take them and hold them and tell them it's going to be okay." She says she's just grateful to be planning for her daughter's surgery and not her funeral.

"I don't want other people struggling through what I have to go through," Davis said.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Do you wish you could take it back?

Kerrigan Davis: Yes, I do.