After an afternoon boating adventure turned into a devastating accident that changed Dan Cummings' life forever, the then-19-year-old has focused his life on helping others recover from injuries like his.
Cummings, now 33, was seriously injured when he dove off a boat into shallow water near Boston while spending time with friends, and didn't realize the depth of the water he'd jumped into.
"The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes underwater and couldn't move," he told TODAY.
He broke his neck and had to be put on a ventilator, and the accident ultimately left him a quadriplegic. Despite doctors' fears that he might never be able to feed himself again, he didn't let his condition hold him back.
"I used it as motivation," he said. "I am a tough kid from Boston. I was not going to accept that diagnosis."
First, he focused on learning how to walk again, finding an intense workout program in California.
"I took my first steps, and I walked out of there with a walker," Cummings said. For four years, he trained at the facility for three hours a day, three days a week.
The facility, located in Canton, Massachusetts, attracts people from all over the country, including Alex Paul, who commutes two hours from Maine to attend the workshops after a bike accident left him paralyzed.
"Most of the time I am in my wheelchair until I get back in bed at night," he told TODAY, while completing a workout. "I am never in my chair when I am here."
The clients at Journey Forward are each working to achieve different physical goals — some need help feeding themselves while others are working on taking steps and standing.
Cummings has the same message for all of them: "Don't get discouraged," he said. "It took seven years before I took my first steps. It's a game of inches. It doesn't happen overnight."