Toney Hall was enjoying a day of water-skiing with friends on Claytor Lake in Virginia when, without warning, the boat's steering cable broke.
The boat lurched, tossing Hall into the water. It happened so quickly that Hall was back in the boat before he began to comprehend how this would change his life. Hall had been hit by the boat's propeller.
"It was gruesome," Hall said. "I was freaking out because my left hand was shredded from the elbow down."
Now, 20 years later, Hall is playing guitar and singing at a local restaurant. The audience smiles and shouts out song requests. I watch, awed at the human spirit's resilience.
Hall, of Largo, began playing in bands while still in high school in Virginia.
"The first time I held a guitar I wanted to make it my career," Hall said. "After the accident both of my hands were useless for months."
He underwent two surgeries on his right hand and a grueling 13 reconstructive surgeries on the left. He lost his left thumb and most of the control, feeling and strength of the fingers on the left hand.
His doctors advised him to give up the guitar.
"I've always been motivated by someone telling me I can't do something," Hall said.
Using a mirror to relearn the guitar, Hall struggled for two years as a left-handed player before he even felt adequate.
"It still doesn't feel natural," Hall said. "If I dream about playing guitar or I start to play air guitar with the radio, I play right-handed."
His damaged fingers can't hold a pick in his left hand.
"I tried Popsicle sticks with electrical tape and bandaging a pick to my hand but nothing worked," Hall said. "Finally, I got creative with super glue and created a pick I can use."
Hall's creation is simple. Using a thumb pick, a finger pick and two more picks, he has created a brace that slips onto his strumming fingers.
In 2002, Hall got married. With the blessing of his wife, Rosetta, he left his full-time job to focus on music.
Hall is a stay-at-home parent by day and plays private parties and local restaurants by night. He played 375 gigs in 2007.
He's developed a following, including Cher and Jim Hoffman of Largo.
"Toney's a great musician," Cher said. "He always gets the crowd going."