When Richard Stauber was falling off a cliff, he accepted death.
“It just kind of hit me like, 'well, this is how it’s going to happen,'” Stauber said, standing at the finish line of the 2016 Lost Dutchman Marathon in Apache Junction, AZ.
Stauber, now 37, not only survived a 60-foot plummet off a cliff in the Superstition Mountains, he pushed through two years of intense physical therapy to learn to walk again, then jog and eventually run.
On Sunday, Stauber finished his fourth marathon since the accident seven years ago on Feb. 15, 2009. back then he was hiking with his brother Chris in the rugged Superstition Mountains, which are filled with steep ravines and treacherous paths. The two men began descending a peak after an overnight camp-out. Chris slipped on some rocks and began falling over a cliff. Richard grabbed him and both men fell towards jagged rocks below.
"I could see sky and the city of Phoenix and I thought, 'I'm going to die,'" Richard said.
Chris broke his tailbone when he landed. Richard shattered his left leg, broke his right ankle and broke his right hand. Richard’s left tibia and fibula were broken into pieces.
“When I came back from unconsciousness, I was just so happy,” he said.
Chris was able to call 911 and provide rescue crews with his GPS coordinates. By late morning, a rescue helicopter plucked Richard from the mountains and air-lifted him to the hospital. Chris stayed with his dog until rescue crews were able to reach them on the ground.
Five years later, Richard completed the first marathon of his life in commemoration of his recovery. Fittingly, he ran in the Lost Dutchman Marathon, which is traditionally held on the weekend closest to Valentine's Day in the foothills of the mountains where Richard almost lost his life.
“I feel great," he said Sunday. "I’m able to run, let alone walk, and just celebrate my recovery."
On Sunday, Richard's wife Anna and the couple's two young daughters were together at the finish line celebrating Richard's fourth marathon finish since 2014. It was Richard's second that he finished under four hours.
"That's amazing," said Anna. "When I met him he was on crutches and I was just hoping everything would be fine."
Richard said he learned from his accident and recovery to face challenges head-on. He also learned to embrace trials. When he looks at the Superstition Mountains, he doesn't feel pain or regret. He just smiles.
"They’re absolutely beautiful. There are waterfalls and petroglyphs. They are the most beautiful mountains in Arizona," he said. "I’ll always cherish those mountains."