They were together on a sun-splashed Russian River beach the day Honza Ripa's life took a traumatic turn.
He dove into the green water and found he could not move. His neck was broken and he nearly drowned.
Brianna Angell was there as Healdsburg teens hauled Honza from the river, bringing their post-graduation idyll to a grim end and sending him by helicopter to the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital emergency room.
Throughout his long recovery and rehabilitation at hospitals in Santa Rosa and San Jose, Brianna, 17, stood by Honza and helped raise thousands of dollars for the 6-foot-3 former star golfer who was paralyzed from the neck down in the diving accident 10 months ago.
Honza, 18, a gregarious athlete now adjusting to life in a body that will barely do his bidding, still has Brianna to lean on, literally and figuratively.
The young couple, a lanky blond quadriplegic and a petite brunette, plan to move in together this summer in Santa Rosa and attend classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.
They are in love, they said, and intended to live together eventually. The decision was made about two months ago.
"We figured why not now?" said Honza, who turns 19 on Thursday.4-22
"I was getting older and not wanting to live with my parents anymore," Brianna said.
They met at Healdsburg High in September 2008 and have been together ever since. Honza graduated in May; Brianna graduates June 4, three weeks after she turns 18.
Honza's mother, Katka Ripova, understands their motivation. "Everybody else wants to start their life," she said.
Brianna's mother, Karan Angell of Healdsburg, said she's impressed with the relationship the two have forged through an extraordinary experience. "It's endearing and it's heartwarming," Angell said. "They are the real deal. They've done a lot of growing up in a short time."
Brianna, who's 5-foot-3, is already versed in the chores of tending to a quadriplegic. An electric lift moves Honza from wheelchair to bed and back, and if it doesn't work Brianna knows how to transfer his 160-pound body with a 3-foot-long wooden plank.
"If you do it right, it's really easy and pretty quick, too," she said.
"It's good to live with someone who knows your care the best," Honza said.
His mind and body haven't — and may never — fully adjust to the physical paralysis. A top student with a knack for mathematics at Healdsburg High School, Honza's brain is fine.
He recently beat the chess game on his laptop computer at its highest level, a satisfying victory for a person coping with immense loss.
Golfing in his dreams
In his dreams, Honza can still smack a drive down the middle of a fairway at Tayman Park, the hilly Healdsburg golf links where he developed a love for the game as a boy.
"I still get the feeling I can reach for a glass or reach for a phone," Honza said. The illusion, he figures, is a product of the "muscle memory" of his 18 years as an able-bodied person.
In reality, Honza spends his days strapped into a motorized wheelchair and his nights on a narrow, air-filled mattress that shifts his weight around to stave off bedsores. About 6 a.m. every morning, he needs to be turned in bed, from side to back or back to side, to prevent sores from developing anywhere bones are close to the skin, such as his elbows, tailbone and shoulder blades.
Resources To Help
North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373
NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655
Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181
For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org