This is not a story about softball. Nor is this a story for the fainthearted, the weak-minded or the jelly-legged.
This is a story for all of us who are inspired by people who exemplify the can-do, never-give-up spirit so necessary in sports and perhaps even more in life.
The story begins on June 3, 2011 -- a Friday. Bella Secaira, a catcher at Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, Calif.) who had just been named the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Player of the Year, was trying to help out a friend.
"She was having a bad day, and I was trying to convince her to talk," Secaira said. "So I told her, 'Let's go up on the roof. We'll get away from everything and no one will be able to hear us.'"
Her friend agreed. They'd go up on Secaira’s apartment roof and talk it out. Just two teenagers trying to remove themselves from the world and have a heart-to-heart. But when they got to the roof and decided to move to an even more secluded sanctuary on the roof of the apartment building next door, June 3 turned into anything but a normal Friday in the Secaira household.
"We had to climb through a tree to get to the next house," Secaira said. "[My friend] went first and made it."
But then, as Secaira attempted to duplicate her friend's movements, the sudden snap of a branch underneath her feet sent her on a 35-foot free fall.
For Secaira, perhaps the only thing scarier is that she remembers every detail.
"I still have dreams about it,” she said. “There was so much pain when I landed. I tried to sit up, but then everything went numb and I fell back down."
The bodily damage was severe: a broken rib had punctured her lung and she had more bumps and bruises than a seasoned UFC fighter. But what offered the most peril was a broken C2 vertebra in her neck, an injury that forced doctors to induce unconsciousness so her body stayed completely still. If her body had moved the wrong way, she could have been paralyzed.
After 24 hours of unconsciousness, Secaira woke up to find Tony Rico, her 18 Gold Worth Firecrackers coach, holding her hand at bedside. The doctors told the family that she wouldn't play softball for at least a year, but Secaira told Rico that she'd be back much sooner than that.
"The first thing I noticed at the hospital was the calmness and peacefulness in her face and in her eyes," Rico said. "She had to communicate to me by writing words on a board because she had a tube in her throat, and her first words to me were 'Thank you.' It wasn't about her, it was about the people around her."
Immediately, this determined Firecracker went to work, starting first with lower-body workouts because any activity above the waist was off limits. And day by day, the Firecracker shone brighter, earning the respect and admiration of all who were witnesses.
One friend who noticed was Firecrackers teammate Karley Wester, now a junior outfielder at Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.).
"I just admired the way she worked so hard to get back out onto the field again," Wester said. "I always thought to myself, 'I wonder if I could ever rebound from that.'"
Little did Wester know, she'd get her chance. In August, on the very day that Secaira got her neck brace removed and came to the field to cheer on her teammates, Wester was stealing second base and collided shin-on-shin with the covering shortstop, shattering her left tibia.
"They pulled me off the field and Bella was there telling me to hang in there," Wester said. "Her accident and the way she handled it with such a positive attitude really helped me to stay positive through the pain as well."
To this day, Secaira, who was cleared by doctors to play in September and hopes to be ready for her junior season this spring, continues to inspire people by the way she handled her near-fatal fall. Recently, at one of Rico's clinics, she made a statement to the audience about the importance of remaining positive, whether you're striking out or you can't pay your bills.
"She got a standing ovation from people of all ages," Rico said.
"This whole experience changed my life and the way I look at things," said Secaira, who has committed to Utah. "At the end of the day, it's about making sure you're happy. Maybe that's why I'm still here. So I can teach people that being successful is about being happy, in sports and in life."
Broken neck or not, that's a girl with extraordinary backbone.