It's been almost 40 years since Doug Heir's life changed in an instant. On Father’s Day 1978, the promising athlete was working as a lifeguard when he attempted to save a boy who appeared to be drowning. Doug broke his neck during the rescue, unaware the youngster screaming for help was playing a prank.

 “I was taken out of the pool and I knew I was paralyzed. I remember saying to my brother, 'Just let me drown; I don’t want to live my life like this.’ And he said, 'We will fight this together. You are going to be fine; whatever it is, we will get through this.’

Accepting a harsh reality

“I thought it would just be temporary,” Heir recalls. “Until the doctor came in after X-Rays and told me I had broken my neck at cervical level C-6, and I would never walk again.”

At age 18, his challenge was set. Heir was rendered a quadriplegic with use of his arms but no use of the lower extremities and a very limited use of his fingers — with no grasp: “In one minute, I went from being a six-foot four- inch athlete to being a quadriplegic hanging on to life in a hospital bed.”

Despite the tragedy, Heir somehow found the strength to re-enroll in college, undergo rehab and earn a law degree from Rutgers University. He began working with attorneys throughout the country, assisting clients who've suffered devastating injuries. He's also an accomplished wheelchair athlete in track and field. Heir was even featured on a Wheaties cereal box.

“I've been blessed by winning over 330 gold medals, competing in five Paralympics and multiple world and international championships,” he adds.

'“I remember saying to my brother, 'Just let me drown; I don’t want to live my life like this.’”'

Sharing his story

Heir, age 57, has also delivered speeches across the globe, reaching more than 2 million people over the years.

He says, “I’ve been very honored to help many people who write and thank me that I was able to help turn their lives around. I’m glad I can serve as a motivator, an inspiration and a teacher, helping people achieve greater success and happiness in life."

Based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Heir travels by helicopter and private plane to various engagements, and has been frequently recognized for his contributions.

LOOKING FORWARD: After years of struggling, Heir has remained as upbeat and optimistic about his own life as possible, while sharing his story to help others turn their lives around.

Embracing what's ahead

“I have struggled looking out the window while lying in a hospital bed for three months, saying how I wished this never happened to me, and being so fearful of the future,” he admits, “to now having these amazing opportunities.

“I've tried to live my life with my arms wide open, to experience joy, happiness, love, prosperity, success, good health, family, friends and many blessings from God,” Heir continues. “With all those beautiful gifts that are given, I don’t know which days will bring sadness, pain, despair, times of hopelessness, or a temporary loss of vision for a happier life.

“So, although my approach is always a positive outlook, I remain with my arms wide open to experience life, to fall down and get up in all its glory.” Adds Heir, “Whatever comes your way, you have the strength and ability and the talents to survive it.”