No matter where you are from, longtime college football fans are all aware of the tragic spinal cord injury suffered by Eric LeGrand in 2010. Fans of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights can't erase it from their memories.
What happened to the former defensive tackle, and what is he doing now?
Who is Eric LeGrand?
He made major improvements in his game between his freshman and sophomore seasons and was on track to be a continued improvement when tragedy struck his junior year.
Eric LeGrand's Injury
Football is a game of violence. That's not a condemnation; it's just a statement of fact. The object of the game necessitates violence. Participants willingly subject themselves to danger.
There is a thin veil of safety measures that give us some sense of control over the danger. Nevertheless, the beast reminds us of its strength from time to time, proving that despite our best efforts, the worst thing can happen in almost any play.
Eric LeGrand was paralyzed playing defense for special teams on a kickoff return late in the fourth quarter of an NCAA game against Army.
The stadium fell silent while the extent of his injuries was realized right before their eyes. LeGrand left the field on a stretcher, unable to move under his own power. Rutgers won the game but lost the war; indeed, they did not win again for the rest of the year.
The only thing more painful than watching LeGrand struggle was experiencing it.
LeGrand recalls not being able to breathe and fearing death:
"Am I going to die right now? I can't breathe. I can't breathe. Alright, alright. Let's try to get up. Try to breathe. Lord, take me at ease. I can't breathe."
It was a terrifying scene, to be sure.
Eric LeGrand's Recovery
The diagnosis: paralysis from the neck down. In addition to his serious injuries, doctors also noted LeGrand's enduringly positive attitude. The latter condition would prove incorrigible.
As you may expect, the early days of recovery were especially difficult and painful for LeGrand. He found himself helpless, but solace in his two near-constant companions: Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and his Wonder Womanesque mother.
LeGrand transferred to the Kessler Institute for inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. With the seriousness of his condition, physical therapy isn't a short-term solution for LeGrand. He has since been committed to physical therapy 2-3 times per week in his efforts to walk again one day.
Eric LeGrand's commitment to recovery has led him to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network, the organization founded by the real Superman.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to everyone but especially those already physically challenged.
With gyms like the Kessler Institute closing to prevent the spread, LeGrand reportedly performs his rehab at home.
Will Eric LeGrand Ever Play Football Again?
The answer to that question is very likely no. LeGrand isn't working toward football as a goal, anyhow. He simply aims to walk again.
LeGrand finds inspiration in being prepared physically just in case a cure for paralysis is found during his lifetime. His unerasable positive attitude contributes to his high quality of life.
Football fans have kept LeGrand's story in the front of their minds and hearts, finding several ways to honor the former defensive tackle.
The Sports Illustrated Cover
Sports Illustrated Best Moment of 2011! Our inspiration, Eric LeGrand @bige52_ru Let's go RU - Pinstripe Bowl 2day! pic.twitter.com/iJ27J1le
— G.S. Ale House (@gsalehouse) December 30, 2011
In 2011, just a year after his injury, the former Rutgers defensive tackle boldly took the field with his Rutger teammates from a wheelchair.
LeGrand was all smiles, further evidence of his enduring optimism. The moment was memorialized on the cover of Sports Illustrated later that year.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Signed Him
The gesture in 2012 was purely symbolic and came with no financial incentives.
It did fulfill LeGrand's lifelong dream to join an NFL roster, which is good enough for me.
LeGrand was signed while finishing his studies at Rutgers.
Eric LeGrand Won an ESPY
Six months after being honored by Sports Illustrated, LeGrand received an illustrious Jimmy V Award from the ESPYS in honor of his inspiration.
LeGrand's speech was touching to the maximum, foretelling his knack for motivational speaking.
Eric LeGrand Now
Eric LeGrand is still heavily involved with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. He runs a fundraiser for spinal cord research called Team LeGrand, which you can donate to here.
LeGrand is still a New Jersey legend. He was able to pull off his annual "A Walk to Believe" 5K charity run in 2020 despite coronavirus restrictions. The only thing super spread by this event was love.
LeGrand is an inspiration to many. Instead of hiding from his problems, he embraces them. Rather than fighting the tide, he finds a way to ride the waves. He turned his tragedy into motivation for himself, his family, his fans, and countless others. LeGrand still works as a motivational speaker today. He has even spoken to NFL teams, inspiring the New York Jets, among others.
Not content to only offer spiritual motivation, LeGrand recently stepped into the realm of physical motivation as well.
LeGrand Coffee House coffees inspire caffeine-addicts like me to get out of bed every single morning. Plans to open a brick-and-mortar coffee shop in Woodbridge, NJ were put on hold due to the pandemic.
For now, the coffee is available to order online.
The victorious story of former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand is one of tragedy turned into inspiration. As he hopes for a cure for paralysis, we all do with him.
This article was originally published on March 23, 2021.
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