David Stewart Arthur Cleverley

A skilled athlete and a fearless cliff diver, he pursued a lifelong dream and moved to British Columbia for a fresh start
David Stewart Arthur Cleverley
Illustration by Team Macho

David Stewart Arthur Cleverley was born on March 30, 1985, in Prince George, B.C., the fourth child and only son for Donald, a teacher, and Lori, a bank manager. When David was three, the Cleverleys moved to Ontario. The pulp mill in Prince George had set off David’s sister Megan’s allergies, and Don’s entire family settled in Cambridge. The Cleverleys were a tight-knit bunch and spent summers in their white minivan, criss-crossing North America on road trips and singing Hey Jude and Walking on Broken Glass at the top of their lungs.

When he was four, Lori found David on the roof of the house. “It’s okay, mom! I got my Superman shirt on,” he yelled down. After that, he was known as “Superman” to friends and family. He was “absolutely fearless,” says Lori. On instinct, he’d throw himself into any body of water he came across—lakes, quarries, pools. When visiting his cousin Ben in Vancouver, he’d sneak into UBC’s outdoor pool at night to dive off the 10-m board.

School wasn’t really his thing—which was tough, because his sisters were all straight-A students—but sports sure were. Football was his passion. David, who had a vertical that made coaches drool, was tailor-made for the wide-receiver position. He was supremely confident and, with his larger-than-life personality, became a vocal team leader with the Cambridge Lions, the local under-19 team. He’d started attracting interest from schools in the U.S. and Canada, and his final season with the Lions was his moment to shine. But in the second game of the season, while returning a kick, David was dropped by a brutal hit, ruining his shoulder. In that instant his career was ended, leaving a gaping hole in his life.

After working in corporate sales for Research in Motion for four years, last fall David decided to pursue a lifelong dream and move to B.C. The province held a mythical grip on all the Cleverleys. “The mountains, the feeling of the forests surrounding you, the ocean”—it was their Eden, David’s sister Kristin explains. But David had another reason. He left to try to find happiness.

For even Superman had his secrets. For years, David, always the life of the party, had been secretly battling a deep depression. A change of scenery alone, however, won’t cure mental illness, as David learned. He was still sick, and on Dec. 22, at around 3 a.m., David, achingly lonely, took a cab to the foot of the Lion’s Gate Bridge. After he’d climbed to the bridge’s highest point and tossed his wallet and BlackBerry into Burrard Inlet, 200 feet below, a voice called out to him from the dark. It was a policewoman. “Please—you don’t want me to have a bad day, do you?” she shouted. That was all it took. David, in that moment, realized how many people would be affected—cop included—if he jumped, he wrote in “Chasing the Ghost,” a blog he launched while under lockdown in the psychiatric ward at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital.

He’d decided to open up about his illness, and hoped his words might help other young men suffering in silence. At St. Paul’s, he realized he wasn’t like the other patients—the paranoid schizophrenic in a Slayer T-shirt who believed the government owns our brains, or the bearded fellow who’d found a formula proving, he insisted, that the Earth will shortly be covered by 13,000 feet of water. He wasn’t crazy. He could beat this. He made a decision to live, says Kristin, a psychiatric nurse. Instead of returning to Ontario, where he feared he’d fall back into old habits, he moved in with Ben, joined his cousin’s church, found factory work and gave up liquor. Staying put, it turned out, was the best decision he ever made. “I have no money, I don’t have my BlackBerry, my car is back in Ontario and I’m sleeping on a mattress in my cousin’s media room,” he wrote in January. “Yet I truly feel the happiest I have in years.” The fog of sadness, finally, had lifted.

On April 9, he joined the church men’s retreat at Cultus Lake. After finishing a game of floor hockey, some of the young men decided to cool off by jumping off the cliffs into the lake. Ben jumped from 30 feet. But “David being David,” says his sister Anna, climbed 80 feet up the bluff. “Say a prayer for me!” he shouted. Then Superman, the graceful athlete, the young man who’d finally chased off the ghost, leaped into the air. It was a perfect swan dive, but David hit the water at a strange angle and was killed on impact. He was 27.