Michael Bastiaen will never forget the date - July 16, 1988.

It's etched into his memory on the side of a rock.

During a midsummer excursion to a California river with some friends that day, the Astoria native's life took an irreversible turn. He climbed up a high boulder, surveyed the water as he had many times before and dove in.

But on this day, the water was too low. And that's when things went sideways. He lay there in the shallow water trying to swim, but was physically incapable of doing so.

It was only later, at the hospital, that he'd learn he had broken his neck. Bastiaen still remembers the details of the life-changing event.

"I was up pretty high, and I'd done the dive before," he says. "But the water level just goes down like everyday down there during the summer. So when I dove in, I just hit my head, and, boom, I'm just laying in the water."

Bastiaen's recollection of his time in the river is hazy, but he remembers a friend pulling him out. An ambulance was called, and he was rushed away. It would take years of physical therapy and multiple surgeries for motion to return to parts of his body.

Twenty-four years after the event, Bastiaen doesn't take life sitting down. He has to keep moving.

Now married with three children, Bastiaen works as an independent contractor, doing handiwork such as window washing and foundation digging through his business West Coast Window Washers. It's grueling, physical labor, and it's hard sometimes, he says, because the right side of his body is still partially paralyzed.

But he makes do, and it's better than the alternative. If he sits for too long, his body gets cramped, and he can't move. It's the result of his paralysis.

It's this sort of potential bodily atrophy that's forced Bastiaen to embrace being a jack-of-all-trades.

"If I was stuck in a chair all day, it would be tough," he says.

Much like his road to recovery, his road back to Astoria was a long one, too.

Because his family moved almost annually when he was younger, Bastiaen's accident happened in California, where he was living. Before that, he'd lived in Astoria for four years during his formative years and knew he'd come back someday.

"I just made a lot of close friends when I lived in Astoria - through the fifth grade to my freshman year, I made a lot of good friends," he says.

Looking back on the early years, before he moved and the accident happened, Bastiaen says he was an athletic kid. He could walk on his hands 400 yards. He was on the wrestling team and did well.

Activities were always his forte. He'd probably be doing the same type of work even if the accident had never happened, he says.

Work's not always easy to find, he adds. He relies primarily on word of mouth, which works well in Astoria, where people recognize him and look past his disability.

Now, a lot of his work comes from elderly people who can't do the work themselves. He appreciates working for them because it means they trust him, he says. He'll chop their wood. He'll climb to the roof to clean gutters. He'll do what it takes to make sure his limited movement doesn't hold him back.

Still, work takes a toll sometimes.

It's hard, he says, "but that's what keeps me going."

— Tyler Graf

 

Tags