PEMBROKE — Standing in waist-deep water, Chad Porter couldn’t escape the 20-foot ski boat racing out of control toward him.
With a split second to react, Porter — who was 15 at the time — dove under the water.
“This boat drove right over the top of me,” he said. “The suction grabbed me and pulled me right into the propeller and it started chopping me up.
“I couldn’t get away from it. It started slinging me around like a rag doll underneath the boat. My legs were just getting pulverized.”
The graphic description drew gasps from the 1,040 University of North Carolina at Pembroke freshmen gathered at Givens Performing Arts Center.
Doctors were able to repair his right leg. His left foot was never recovered from Tucker Lake near Benson.
Porter, now 42, shared his story of courage and determination as the keynote speaker at the First-Year Student Convocation. He is considered one of the nation’s most inspirational and motivational speakers.
Porter grew up in Lumberton, the son of Pam and Hugh “Mac” Porter, a 1968 graduate of UNCP who lettered in basketball, baseball and golf.
Chad had just completed a ski show as a member of the Ski Heel stunt team on that fateful summer day in 1991.
He was an athletic teenager, standing 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, who excelled in sports and had dreams of playing in the NFL.
“I had my whole life planned out,” he said. “There is nothing that could have altered my plan.
“All of a sudden everything changed. My life completely flipped upside down over those next few seconds on that day. My life would never been the same.”
Lying in the hospital bed, Porter told himself that he could either quit or fight through.
“That’s really your only two choices when you face adversity,” he told the students. “Quit or fight through.”
Porter fought through adversity, refusing to let his prosthetic leg sideline him from his love of sports. He earned two degrees, worked in real estate and as a rehab specialist, and later founded the Porter Financial Group. He is also a member of the Zig Ziglar International Team, an elite group of highly skilled and knowledgeable corporate trainers.
He lives in Wilmington with his wife and two children.
He uses his story to inspire others. For the past 25 years, he has spoken to Fortune 500 companies, professional and college athletes, churches, schools and community organizations. Before visiting UNCP, he gave a pep talk to the Buffalo Bills’ training camp.
“Some of you have cruised up to this point in life. Some of you have dealt with some incredible odds. Your problems don’t end in high school or college. You have to fight and continue to give 100 percent whether it is with academics, sports or in campus life.
“You have an amazing university that is excited to have you. They are here to do everything they can to make you successful. Get involved and build relationships.”
Freshmen Cameron Long and Trey McDonald said they were moved by Porter’s message.
“He was an amazing speaker,” said Long, a Lumberton resident. “He is probably one of the best speakers I have ever heard. He had a real touching life story.”
Eric Brown, a freshman from Fayetteville, said he’s excited to embark on his UNCP journey. He plans to study music education and one day teach at the high school level.
“I hope to gain an awesome musical experience here at UNCP. I know there are a lot of great educators here. I just want to do something that makes a difference,” Brown said.
Fellow freshman Emily Long said she wanted to do the same with her future career as a nurse.
“I hope to touch people and make a difference in peoples’ lives,” she said. “I want to not only be able to help people physically, but spiritually as well.”
Mark Locklear is a Public Communications specialist for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Communications & Marketing.