Warning: This story contains graphic video below.
Newly released GoPro footage shows the moments a now-26-year-old volleyball player slipped and fell 50 feet from a Hawaii waterfall and survived.
Just one week before a volleyball tournament, Heather Friesen was hiking Honolulu’s Ka’au Crater Trail in February 2016, she told Larissa Maloney on Maloney’s podcast In the World of Female Sports. Fascinated by one of the trail’s waterfalls, Friesen excitedly switched on her GoPro and decided to take a closer look.
“I was up at the top just trying to look over the edge of the waterfall. And I got too close and I ended up slipping and falling off the waterfall,” Friesen, from Munster, Indiana, told Maloney. “It was about a 40 to 50-foot fall … It was pretty much a free fall. There was a little ridge off to the left and I tried to grab on … But that was too slippery so I just kept falling.”
In the footage, Friesen is heard letting out a yelp as she fell down the rock wall. She moaned repeatedly as she struggled to pull herself from the water. Friesen said time seemed to slow down as she fell, and she thought of her family, her boyfriend (who is now her husband) and volleyball. Fortunately, her friends were quickly at her side.
“I really think my friends thought that I was gonna die … it never crossed my mind that I was gonna die,” she told Maloney. “The worst part was that it was very difficult to breathe because my lung had collapsed and I didn’t know why I couldn’t breath. I was conscious the whole time.”
Friesen said a “random” hiker happened to pass by and was able to contact a rescue team. Meanwhile, a group from the church Friesen attends happened to be on the hike as well, and rushed to help. She was airlifted to a hospital, where doctors learned she had 10 broken ribs, a collapsed left lung and a fractured left shoulder blade.
Just weeks after the incident, Friesen shared a photo of herself bandaged but smiling on Instagram and wrote openly about the challenges she had faced since the incident.
“THANK YOU times a million to everyone who has helped me and reached out to me during this time, from the two random hikers who let me squeeze their hands for 30 minutes while waiting for the helicopter to save me, to the doctors who fixed me up and made me bionic woman, to those who stayed overnight in the uncomfortable hospital chair just to make sure I was comfortable,” she wrote. “I am out of the hospital now and staying at this gorgeous house until I feel a little better, and my heart is full from all of the love and support I have been shown. Thank you just doesn’t cut it. The hardest part is getting volleyball ripped away from me in an instant, but I will be back better and stronger than before.”
Friesen told Maloney that she was in the hospital for about two weeks and underwent surgery to reconnect her ribs using plates and screws. In 2017, she shared a photo of herself in a hospital bed with a neck brace.
“A year ago today marks both the worst day of my life and the best day of my life. With the 10 broken ribs, collapsed lung, fractured scapula, and some scrapes, how could this possibly be the best day of my life?” she captioned the photo. “Because I was shown God’s love in incredible ways that forever transformed me. He saved me from death and has renewed my mind to see a world where God is my number one, and absolutely nothing comes before Him.”
She described the recovery as “a very difficult time,” she told Maloney. But she said the experience showed her that she focused her life too much on volleyball, and she ended up using the downtime to cultivate her faith.
“I should’ve died that day,” Friesen told Maloney. “But I didn’t and [God] chose to save my life. I shouldn’t even be able to still play volleyball.”
As for how she’s doing now, Friesen told Maloney, “I have fully recovered and nothing hurts when I play, which is a miracle in and of itself.”