David Caruth is a man of many almosts.
He almost lost his life when he was struck by lightning. He almost lost his humanity when he fell into a drug and gang-fueled world. He almost lost his freedom when he was blamed for a violent crime.
Sitting in his spacious office at the University of the District of Columbia, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Caruth, 52 and the father of two, as anyone other than a confident, well-dressed and well-spoken administrator. But on Aug. 18, 1977, he was a dead man.
“They described it as the biggest bolt that hit a person who lived to tell about it,” he said. “When that bolt hit me, I died on that field that day. My heart stopped, my spirit left my body.”
When that random bolt found Mr. Caruth 35 years ago, it found a selfish 17-year-old jock at football practice.
“I knew when I was struck by lightning that I was supposed to help people,” he said. “Before that, my main thing was to hurt people.”
Born the second youngest of nine children, Mr. Caruth was raised in a house that counted abuse and poverty as members of the family.
School was a challenge because of his dyslexia, and his only reason for wanting to go to college was to get a leg up on a professional football career by playing in the NCAA.
Mr. Caruth doesn’t remember much beyond a “life-flashing-before-my-eyes” moment when he was hit by the bolt, but he does recall having prayed a week earlier, asking for a sign of God’s existence.
The bolt struck him on the head, went through his football helmet and down to his ankles. It damaged part of his brain, seared his skin and blew out his eardrums.
He was in a coma for four days, and his heart stopped two more times before he woke up, panicked and in severe pain.
Mr. Caruth was in the hospital for 18 days. He had to learn how to walk, read, write and sign, as he was nearly 100 percent deaf. There would be no football scholarship.
He eventually graduated from high school with the third-lowest grades in his class.
He tried community college but flunked out, so he moved to Denver to work for his brother, who was involved in drugs and prostitution.
“I came to a crossroads,” he said. “It was either a life of crime, which meant likely killing people, or get an education, which is what I wanted to do.”
He spent the next few years earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
While going to school at the University of Wyoming, Mr. Caruth found himself subpoenaed for a stabbing he was wrongly accused of committing. He eventually would be found innocent, but his studies suffered and he flunked out of law school there.
Not to be undone, he earned his doctorate in adult learning and technology. He’s the first in his family to have earned a doctorate.
“My goal had been to be a professional athlete and buy my mom a new house,” Mr. Caruth said. “I built a house with a spare room for her.”
In 2006, he took a job at UDC rejuvenating the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning. He also started the university’s academic advisement office and found he had a knack for helping others.
“He’s been a mentor, a colleague and a friend,” said Gregory Bosworth, who was hired by Mr. Caruth at UDC. “He tells me exactly what I need to know and need to do. He’s helped me immensely, and I can’t overstate his value.”
On Saturday, Mr. Caruth will be signing copies of his book “God’s Perfect Timing: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty With Education and Faith” at Sankofa Video, Books & Cafe at 2714 Georgia Ave. NW.
“It chronicles my life, but it’s not necessarily about me,” Mr. Caruth said. “It doesn’t matter how big the challenges are, there are ways to work through them.”