During the course of an October afternoon more than three decades ago, Jim Cacciatore went from thriving Rocky Mountain High School junior with a promising diving career ahead to a 16-year-old who couldn't walk or talk.
It was a gorgeous Indian summer day in Fort Collins as Cacciatore left a friend's house, where he'd been practicing dives on a trampoline, and headed to springboard diving practice. Moments later, a devastating car accident left him crumpled and mumbling in the street, a piece of metal trim impaled through the left side of his head.
Doctors gave him a 50 percent chance of living.
If he did make it, they predicted, he'd be bedridden for the rest of his life. After an eight-day, drug-induced coma, Cacciatore emerged from his chrysalis, forever changed. The "miracle kid," as he was known at Poudre Valley Hospital, was alive, but he'd lost one third of his brain.
"Logic, math, science, ABCs gone," said Cacciatore, 49, in the distinct speech pattern spawned by the accident. "Baby again. Everything blown away."
That defining day permanently shifted his paradigm, from a life that appeared headed in one direction, to one that would use an entirely new map.
But here he sits today, in a tangerine and strawberry-colored Hawaiian-like button-up shirt, jeans and huarache sandals. The left side of his head is slightly indented, and scars still announce that something serious happened to him. His spirit is bright, and he's wholly believable when he says he holds no bitterness about the way life has transpired.
"American society is too fast. I broke that cycle and lot of thinking about things more deeper," he said. "Life is short because tomorrow going accident or Lotto ticket or anything, and it's very fragile beauty, the choices we make. But pick up pieces, don't look back. Love and forgiveness is key in everything. Have all new perspective on things. Lost and found."
Though the accident stripped him of an ease with language and left him partially paralyzed on his right side, Cacciatore thrives creatively. Interests that took root before the accident have flourished: poetry, music, photography, painting. His photos were exhibited in April at Wesley Owens Coffee and Cafe in Monument.
"We received a lot of positive feedback," said cafe co-owner Lindsey Leite. "A lot of people came to check it out on a regular basis. It was pretty popular. People enjoyed seeing it. He did some great work."
"Caach It! Flowers for You" is his 1999 rock and jazz album, written, composed and performed by Cacciatore on guitar with a slew of other musicians. His photos decorate the home of his good friend and roommate Kathie Kaufer, where Cacciatore and wife Lorie Cacciatore have lived for five years. Butterflies, flowers and landscapes are his favorites, and he prefers unusual angles - diving into the intricacies of a sunflower or capturing the alignment of stacked grocery carts.
"Jimmy won't tell you this, but I call him a light bearer," said Kaufer, who met the couple through her brother who has special needs. "He radiates positive attitude. He radiates optimism. He'll attribute to everybody else but himself."
Doves often appear in his paintings, as they represent the Holy Spirit. Cacciatore became deeply religious in the years after the accident, as he struggled to understand why he was still alive. He now believes the prayers of others saved him as he lingered on the verge of death.
"More and more true worship," said Cacciatore when asked about what inspires his paintings. "Everyone has worship. Without Christ we have nothing."
A shared love of Christianity also bonded him and his wife when they met more than a decade ago. They've both suffered head injuries - Lorie's during a car accident at 18.
"He's a godsend to me," said Lorie, 54. "He was cute as a button."
Cacciatore wants the best for the world and its inhabitants, particularly those with head injuries and those who are deaf. His mother and paternal grandparents were deaf, which prompted Cacciatore to become bilingual in American sign language at a young age. Serendipitously, he still could sign after the accident, which was a boon in helping him learn to speak again.
"Believe in yourself," he said. "Against the grain. You can do it. Absolutely. Where there's will there's a way. Do not limit yourself."