Richmond professor survives climbing accident, brings experience to the classroom

April 30, 2019
'I just remember this incredible and immediate sense of regret when I was lying on the ground after the fall.'

“I just remember this incredible and immediate sense of regret when I was lying on the ground after the fall.” 

A year and a half ago, Rick DeJarnette was working harder than ever. Running his own rock climbing company, about to start a new consulting project with CapTech, and gearing up to teach MBA students about leadership and foresight. Then, everything changed.

“On January 6, 2018, a Saturday morning, a friend and I decided to do some recreational climbing,” DeJarnette said. “There was a miscommunication, and I took a 30 foot fall onto my back.”

He broke seven bones, including his neck and his back.

“Literally in a moment I went from what felt like 100 miles an hour to zero miles an hour,” DeJarnette said. “I just remember this incredible and immediate sense of regret when I was lying on the ground after the fall.”

DeJarnette spent the next five months in recovery, moving from hospital to home care, with extensive physical therapy and rehabilitation.

“I was forced to rest and reflect on that previous season,” DeJarnette said.

He spent that time thinking how his life had changed, and what he could do to move forward.

“It forced me to stop and embrace my limitations,” DeJarnette said. “I gained such a profound appreciation for the most basic things. I have my wife and family to thank for that.”

He says in some ways, he is grateful for the experience, because it gave him time to spend at home with his wife and two young sons.  “I think I’m net positive after the accident because of the opportunity for my ‘inner life’ to grow richly,” DeJarnette said.

During his recovery he still had a strong sense of ambition and professional drive. He wanted to continue advancing his career. So he decided to take what he learned about embracing limitations from his recovery to help others seek balance in their lives rather than pushing themselves to the limit.

“I see other people with more grace, it’s allowed me to give myself more grace, and recognize that some of the ambition I had prior to the accident came at the expense  what is most valuable to me” DeJarnette said.

He spoke in The Richmond MBA Voices of Industry Professional Development Workshop Series this spring. He shared his story, and now channels it into executive coaching on change leadership. His unique approach allows his students to look at obstacles in a new light, and helps them prepare for the unexpected. It also prepares managers for upcoming professional changes, and how to best navigate them within a company.

He says the accident has helped him connect with students and clients in a way he never would have been able to otherwise. When he shares his story, other people open up easily, and are candid about what is important to them. Those conversations, he says, help them understand and identify their true values.

“I am now really willing to be aggressive with people in asking if what they’re doing is in line with their deepest values,” DeJarnette said. “People are often living in conflict, trying to do everything at once. I’m trying to help people slow down and create space to evaluate the opportunity-cost of their choices. I want to help them evaluate and make hard professional decisions.”

Debbie Fisher, associate director of The Richmond MBA, has worked with DeJarnette through the entire process, and says the experience he now brings to the program is different than any other professor.

“Rick’s incredible comeback is inspirational for all of our students. I knew The Richmond MBA would benefit from continuing to engage with him,” Fisher said. “He is a born leader and I want our students to see that through his story of overcoming personal hardship.”

You can find out more about DeJarnette’s recent presentation to Richmond MBA students here. DeJarnette is a management consultant at CapTech, and the owner of CapRock Venture Guides.

DeJarnette is a management consultant at CapTech and the owner of CapRock Venture Guides.