On the afternoon of March 20, 2011, two of the world’s most promising young kayakers broke their backs running large waterfalls. Tyler Bradt, then 24, fractured his L1 vertebra on Oregon’s Abiqua Falls, a particularly unforgiving 100-foot drop. Five hundred miles south, 17-year-old Jason Craig struck a rock at the base of an unnamed 30-footer on California’s Dry Creek, shattering his pelvis, smashing his spine and rupturing his dural sac. In lay terms, he separated the lower half of his skeleton from the upper half.

In the year that followed, both paddlers used kayaking as motivation and tool in their recovery. Tyler’s progress was astounding. Just seven months after Abiqua, with a collection of surgical steel screws and pins still in his back, Bradt and three others completed the first descent of the Congo River’s Inga Rapids, the highest-volume whitewater ever run. Craig’s recovery was even more impressive. He learned to walk again.

— Read the rest of this feature story in the June issue of Canoe & Kayak, now available on newsstands. Here’s Jason’s story in his own words: