I feel compelled to share a young man’s inspirational story with you; a story of courage in the face of tragedy, and determination in the face of great odds. It’s a story about Eric LeGrand, and this story begins on October 16, 2010.
It was during a normal football game between Rutgers and Army, that Eric, a junior for Rutgers, was injured making a tackle on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the game. Eric told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi in an interview later that while he was lying on the field after his injury, he had “the fear of death,” and he believed he “could pass out and die here.”
You can see for yourself in this video of the tackle and the reaction by the officials and coaches on the field, that Eric’s injuries were very serious. He told ESPN that he tried to give the crowd a signal to let them know that he was okay when he was being taken off the field. However, when he tried to give a simple thumbs-up signal, he found it impossible because it felt like “1,000 pounds was on this thumb.”
Later, when he was treated at Hackensack University Medical Center, he learned why this simple movement was so difficult. He was initially diagnosed paralyzed from the neck down, and had emergency surgery to stabilize his spine.
Rutgers coach, Greg Schiano, visited him before and after surgery, and reported, “Eric’s spirits were as good as you can expect. He was cognizant of me being there, his mom, everybody. He’s a fighter. As I talked to our team, we’re just going to believe that Eric LeGrand is going to walk onto that field again with us. That’s what we believe.”
“He believes that he’s going to be up and moving again,” Coach Shiano said. “There’s no doubt in his mind.”
After two weeks at Hackensack, Eric was transferred to Kessler Institute, which is one of the nation’s leaders in spinal cord rehabilitation. Eventually, his doctors upgraded his condition to an incomplete paralysis. In November, he was taken off a ventilator, and he is able to breathe on his own.
In December, it was announced by the Rutgers University that Eric had some feelings in his hands. Then on January 6, 2011, Huffington Post reported that Eric not only had movement in his shoulders, but he was experiencing sensation throughout his body.
Rutgers University set up a fund for Eric and his family called the LeGrand Believe Fund. The name of the fund is inspired by Eric himself who refuses to believe that he will not walk again or play football again. (Anyone who would like to contribute to this fund can follow this link.)
When you follow the link, please take the time to listen to the press conference with Eric to get a true sense of what this young man is made of. In the interview, he was asked about his progress and he explained that he was having contractions in the muscles in his chest and in his biceps and was hoping to be able to start feeding himself.
When asked if he ever wonders or says to himself, “Why me?” he said, “I don’t really think that to myself, cause I believe God has a reason for this whole situation; He’s not gonna put me through something I can’t handle, so I don’t really ask myself why.”
Eric went on to say, “Right now, I’m doing pretty well. I’m motivated, I have a great family, my great girlfriend, Reanne, and just, we’re all in this together.”
And he talked about the outpouring of support he has received from the LeGrand Believe Fund, saying it is more than he ever would have imagined. He said, “I’m very blessed, and I’m very thankful that this is happening. And I hope I can inspire a lot of people to never stop believing.”
He was asked if there was a point when he decided that he needed to face his situation in a positive way, and Eric told of what was probably the scariest time in his life, laying on that football field, and his coach telling him to leave his situation in God’s hands; to keep praying and to be positive. He said that he recalled at this point all of his coach’s reminders that they would all face adversity of some kind that they would have to rise above. Eric said it was at this moment, laying on that field, unable to move, that he realized this was the adversity he would have to face. He didn’t know what it was yet or where it would lead him, but he was going to face it positively and just get through it.
This is the young man who I want you to know about. A young man whose dreams were derailed with one wrong tackle, but who refuses to believe that his dreams are dead. A young man who has already gone beyond his doctors’ expectations, and plans to go even farther. A young man who inspires us all to believe in ourselves and our abilities, even when those abilities have been severely hampered.
On Saturday, an unseasonably cold and snowy day, at the opening moments of Rutgers game against West Virginia, Eric’s teammates and coaches honored this young man. Dressed in his Rutgers jersey, with Coach Shiano beside him and his teammates behind him, Eric operated his motorized wheelchair through the Rutgers tunnel carrying an axe across his lap in honor of the team’s battle cry, leading his team out on the field to the cheers and support from thousands who have heard his story and whose lives have been touched by this amazing man.
Eric LeGrand believes, and because he does, a young man barely a year removed from a spinal cord injury has shown us all how to respond to adversity and will continue to inspire others who face the impossible because of his simple belief that nothing is impossible with faith and the support of those who love you. I’m certain that those of us who saw Eric’s triumphant entrance onto his school’s football field, either in person or online, were deeply touched and grateful for this young man’s great faith.
And I know that I am not the only one who wants desperately to believe that Eric will someday run through that tunnel with his teammates to play the game he loves so much, and to celebrate what can be accomplished if you just believe…