Paralyzed football player urges students to bELieve

Eric LeGrand says he tries to make someone smile every day

Staff Writer


ELieve. The one word used in conjunction with anything to do with Eric

LeGrand is also the main theme of the message he spreads to everyone.

LeGrand, a former Rutgers University football player who was paralyzed during a game in 2011, visited the Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, Middlesex County, on May 10 to share his words of encouragement, strength and positivity.

LeGrand, who is a Colonia High School graduate, said he got into football at the age of 4 when his friend Doug’s mother signed up her son for the Port Reading (Woodbridge) Saints. After that, it was “football, football, football,” he said .

He thought baseball would be the sport he would excel in, but he pursued football more persistently in high school.

“Nothing was going to stop me from pursuing my childhood goal of playing college football,” LeGrand said.

Feeling like he was “on top of the world” at the time, Oct. 16, 2010, turned his world upside down. During a game against the Army Black Knights, LeGrand collided with an Army player and sustained a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.

“Boom! My whole life changed,” he said, describing the impact as a “flash grenade” going off in his head. He said he thought he was going to die because he could not breathe; “my body wasn’t moving,” he said.

He said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano came over and told him to keep praying, which he did.

“When I got on the stretcher, I finally got the big breath of air I was praying for,” LeGrand said.

The Scarlet Knights’ junior defensive lineman was “freaking out,” but calmed down a bit when he saw his mother upset on the sidelines, because he wanted to be strong for her. However, he blacked out once he got into the ambulance and does not remember anything from that Saturday to the followingWednesday.

He called the next five months spent at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation “a grind.”

However, LeGrand said seeing other patients forced him to put his own situation into perspective. He said one of his friends with cancer had been abandoned by his parents, one friend shot himself in the head because he could not stand being in a nursing home, and another friend died from spinal cord cancer that spread to his brain.

“From now on, how can I complain about anything that goes on in my life?” he said, telling the eighth-graders to whom he was speaking that his goal is to make at least one person smile each day.

“I smile, smile, smile every single day,” he said.

In terms of therapy, LeGrand started out on a bike and then worked up to standing for 30 minutes without becoming dizzy or unstable. He is going through a walking program, his legs in a harness with people moving his legs forward, and after 80 sessions, he can sit up for 15 minutes instead of leaning back, because of his improved trunk support.

His doctors initially said he would never walk again, eat solid foods or breathe on his own. Having done two of the three already, he has high hopes for his mobility to return.

“I know I am going to get up out of this chair one day and there is going to be a huge party,” he said. “I want to continue to inspire a whole world of people.”

In the meantime, LeGrand told the students he is living a typical 21-year-old’s life, hanging out with his girlfriend and his friends, going to the movies and watching sporting events.

“I’m just living my life like I would be if I was up on my feet,” he said.

LeGrand spoke very highly of his mother, who changed her life and stopped working to take care of him; he called her his inspiration.

He said he looks up to Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos and Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens as his football idols.

“No matter what game you play, no matter what sport it is, play with all your heart,” LeGrand advised the student-athletes in the room.

Overall, LeGrand’s messages were to be the best you can be, not take anything for granted, appreciate everything, and not complain about things in life.

“Believe in yourself, believe in the Man Above, and anything is possible,” he said. “I am so blessed to have so many good things come my way.”