Jagged white sparks fizzed from the rigid fingertips of his outstretched hand into the humid August air, as the scorching current of electricity — five times hotter than the sun — split through his body.
It was the last thing he saw before blacking out.
“I remember how I felt,” said Ben Sides, a sophomore studying psychology. “I remember feeling weightless and then the next moment feeling hard as a rock.”
Sides was 16 years old when he was struck by lightning. He and his family were visiting Nags Head Beach in North Carolina for a reunion. In the late afternoon, Sides and his cousin ventured into the open water.
As dark thunderous clouds rolled in overhead, his cousin got out while Sides remained. He was about to call the other boy back but never got the chance.
“My family saw me wash up on shore, which was lucky,” Sides said. “I didn’t get any water in my lungs.”
After several weeks of swimming through hazy awareness, Sides awoke to a hospital room.
“It was in and out,” Sides said. “I had enough strength at one point to lift my arms. I remember vaguely pretending to be Spiderman [and] ‘shooting’ webs at people.”
Many victims of lightning strikes are simply grateful they can still breathe. But for Sides, it was more.
When lightning is seen exiting the extremities, it means it struck through the heart. For Sides, this shocking event not only affected his heart physically but also spiritually.
Before the accident, Sides said he’d been veering off the path. He was inactive in the Church and making incorrect decisions out of anger at other events in his life.
“It took a little bit, but I realized that if I survived this, and if God let me survive this, then I needed to use this life I was given a second chance with to bring good to the world and bring myself happiness,” Sides said.
Family became the biggest motivator for Sides. As the oldest brother, he realized he needed to be a good role model for his younger sibling. So, Sides returned to the Church and began to turn his life around.
It is not usually possible to see the full ripple effect that a singular event, action or choice may have in life, but Sides said he knows he wouldn’t be here at BYU-Idaho today if it weren’t for the lightning bolt that struck his heart.