By ERIN ROLL
“My name is Eric LeGrand, and I truly believe I will walk again,” the Rutgers football star told a sea of red T-shirts and football jerseys in the Buzz Aldrin Middle School auditorium last week.
The football player turned motivational speaker was left paralyzed after a head injury during a game against the Army’s Black Knights football team in 2010.
His appearance at the school was part of a week-long event centered around “Week of Respect” and issues related to bullying and harassment. It also inspired the students that they can whatever they set their minds to.
LeGrand rolled out onto the stage in his wheelchair, as students cheered, applauded and waved banners.
LeGrand described the moments leading up to the game, and the long journey after through rehab and physical therapy. He shared his story of recovery with the students, including some reminders that even with his own injuries, there were other people who were not as lucky as he had been. A young woman was admitted to hospital with injuries from a car crash on the same day he was. He survived, she did not. He recalled seeing the young woman’s family and friends grieving for her.
He spoke of being thankful for a supportive network of family, friends and doctors, something not all people have. He recalled meeting one young woman who was, like himself, wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury, but she lived in a one-bedroom apartment with six other people, and she often could not leave the apartment for months at a time because the elevator in the building was not working.
He asked the Buzz Aldrin students to think about what they would do in the face of what seems like an insurmountable obstacle. “Do you run away from it, or do you face it head-on?” he asked.
“It’s the peace of mind, knowing you gave everything to be the best you can be,” he said. And he reminded the students that no matter how bad a day they might be having, someone else might be having it even worse.
LeGrand said he would like to play football again someday. He would start by going out onto the football field and lie down in the spot where he had fallen during the West Point game. And then he would stand up and walk off the field under his own power, so that he could say he’d finished the game.