Life couldn't have been much better for Richard "Dick" Freeborg. His Hightech Signs & Graphx business was growing, and he and his wife Ruth were enjoying the fruits of their labor by tooling around in their new RV.

On Fourth of July in 2000 the couple and other family members trekked to Lake Diaz in the southern Sierra Nevadas near Lone Pine.

Although Freeborg was an experienced water skiier, he'd never been on a aquatic WaveRunner before, so he jumped at the chance. Flying over the lake at near automobile speeds was exhilarating, but he lost sight of his son-in-law Brian around a boat - and the two collided.

"I T-boned him doing about 40 mph."

Sustaining severe injuries, Freeborg, who was wearing a life vest, lay motionless.

"I was just floating in the water."

He was carefully plucked from the lake and transported to Loma Linda University Hospital. Doctors decided to move him to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where a noted doctor could repair his shattered hip and related injuries."

"Well, Dick," Freeborg remembers the doctor saying, "rocket science is over. The rest is up to you."

For Freeborg, the devastating accident would be the first of several life challenges since arriving to the Victor Valley in the mid-1990s that would provide pivotal choices: recoil and fail, or move forward and succeed. Each time, there would be only one response from the resilient Freeborg.

PHOTOGRAPHIC CAREER
Raised in Van Nuys, Freeborg served in the United State Air Force's 1352 Photographic Squadron in Korea, becoming a civilian again in 1959. He went to work for Bell & Howell and earned his bachelor's degree at Woodbury College. Later he worked for the company's military marketing arm, the TRAID Corp., modifying cameras to run at accelerated speeds of 200 frames per second.

Freeborg's expertise in the technical photography field made him a hot commodity, so in the late 1960s he was hired by Photo-Sonics to launch the Instrumentation Marketing Corp. Over the next few decades his company would introduce numerous products, some of which are still used in aerospace and other industries. In 1991, he became president of NAC Visual Systems.

But along the way, his understanding of high-speed cameras also opened a door: He was hired to film and compute certified aviation speed record attempts for the National Aeronautics Association.

"I guess I've done 15 or 20 air world records," said Freeborg, whose most notable event was as observer for a high altitude flight of the SR-71 Blackbird. "Whoever wanted to set a world record, they called me."

But not every attempt went as planned.

"I saw several people get killed doing it. It's the most dangerous record you can set."


MOVE TO THE HIGH DESERT
In the early 1990s, Freeborg began consulting, often commuting to New Jersey.

"That really got old. It was too much traveling."

By the mid-1990s, he started thinking of moving to the Victor Valley to retire. The couple built a home in Apple Valley in 1996, but Freeborg began helping out at his adult children's business, Hightech Signs & Graphx, which then was a franchise. One of his two sons "decided the grass was greener" and left the company. But his daughter Alison and son Scott stayed while Freeborg's business acumen helped the company grow. By 1998, he was overseeing the company and refining the company's business plan.

Freeborg remembers when the company purchased it's first large format digital printer, a Hewlett-Packard.

"That really got us on our way."

In 2000, when "everything's going along good," was when his horrific lake accident occurred. Right around the same time, his wife, who had quit smoking years earlier, had to go on oxygen due to progressive emphysema. A combination of Freeborg's severe injuries sustained from the lake accident and his wife's ailing condition forced him to spend many weeks recovering in a rest home.

But when he was well again, he was ready to lead Hightech Signs & Graphx to the next level. Gradually the company bought more high tech equipment, which opened the door to new clients. As a result, the business was growing out of its facility, so an expansion was planned.

Freeborg had purchased a plot of land for the expansion for $50,000 in 1996. But by the time the company was ready to build 10 years later the property had appreciated tenfold.

"The land appreciated so much I didn't have to put up so much capital."

Despite the company's continued success -- by the end of 2006, the company topped $1 million sales -- a bank didn't want to lend the necessary funds for the property's development. So Bud Wiesbord, a friend of 40 years, lent Freeborg a good chunk of the needed funds.

"Just on a handshake, he gave me $250,000."

Another friend helped finance the remainder.

THE FALL
On a Saturday in September of 2005, Freeborg was all alone working on the completion of the new building. Working on a roll-up door in the back, Freeborg placed one foot on the building and another on a truck high above the ground. Then it happened.

"I just launched myself on the back of the door and down I went."

Freeborg landed on the hot blacktop at full force. With blood running down his face from broken eyeglasses he realized he was severely injured. Without the use of his arm, he used he teeth to take off his work gloves and slowly pressed 911.

"Whatever you do, I cannot drop the phone," he told himself.

But help would be delayed.

"This is 911," he remembers hearing. "Due to extremely heavy calls we cannot take your call right now."

"It happened four times," he said.

Finally, a dispatcher took his call and "within five seconds I heard sirens." Firefighters from a nearby station were on the scene almost immediately.

"The pain wasn't that bad because I was in shock. The pain came later. But it looked like I had been hit by a car."

Perhaps he might have been in better shape if he had been in an auto accident. As a result of the fall, Freeborg broke his right shoulder, including the ball joint, and broke his left elbow in seven pieces.

Doctors first repaired his arm, then his shoulder a day later.

"I've got 11 pieces of metal in my shoulder. There were 17 pieces in my arm."

Once again Freeborg was placed in a convalescent home. He needed to be fed, bathed and assisted when he went to the bathroom.

"I was really helpless. I was there for three weeks."

But there was a silver lining: "The employees were really nice. They gave me food. I had plenty of visitors, including Hesperia Chamber members."

LOSES WIFE
As soon as Freeborg was able, he began attending his many business-related activities.

"I go all the functions I can. I belong to all the Chambers of Commerce, six in all."

While he was at a Zank's Coffee Club event one Friday morning in late 2005, the recuperating Freeborg received a call.

"Mom's sick," his daughter said. "You better get home."

He immediately left the Hesperia Chamber function to be by his wife's side.

"By Sunday she was dead," he said of his wife of 47 years.

Although he had given her a tour of the building under construction, she never saw the completed facility. In honor of Ruth Freeborg, the family later planted a memorial grass and tree area behind the business.

But to counteract the sadness and loss, Freeborg did what he'd always done: He kept working on improving the business.

"When disaster strikes you just can't give up. That's probably one of things that gave me sanity. I was working all the time."

LIFE TODAY
After two life-changing accidents and the loss of his wife, Ruth, Freeborg continues to move forward and thrive. Last year, he purchased a former competitor's sign business, and profits - despite a tough economy - are continuing to climb.

"Business is good."

He's even starting to tend to his garden, especially several fruit trees.
"I grow just about anything you can grow up here."

And he's begun dating, especially one special lady from Banning.

Despite life's challenges, Freeborg continues to do one thing that many others might find impossible: smile.

"I can only be thankful that I've survived all these things," Freeborg said.

And he's embracing his company's new motto: "It's going to be great in `08!"

But one thing is for certain, Freeborg isn't standing in tall trucks or riding fast aquatic craft.

"I don't do anything anymore that has a risk factor."