Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
When Lombardi said this years ago, I don’t think he knew he was directly speaking to Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand.
By now, we all know this story of Eric. One bad hit on the gridiron changed his life forever on October 16, 2010. One-quarter of an inch, one second slower, one play later… it all could have been different. We know the “what ifs.” But we can’t dwell on them… and neither does Eric.
Eric and his mom visited the Reeve Foundation’s Short Hills, NJ office on Tuesday. Like any other 20-something-year-old, Eric is just living his life. The only difference? Eric smiles more than anyone else I have ever met (above.) Some might wonder what he has to smile about. I think his mom, Karen, said it best. (Eric, Karen, and Reeve Foundation staff, Alan Brown, Maggie Goldberg, and President & CEO Peter Wilderotter pictured below.)
When I asked her about this journey they have been on and what happens next, she simply said: “Oh we’re still on it. The sky’s the limit.”
I introduced myself to Eric as the office’s “resident football fan” (and then my coworkers chuckled and said ‘Fins up!’) So naturally, Eric’s story hit me more than most spinal cord injury cases I hear about. I questioned if I would ever be able to watch football the same again. No question, I’m still as big a fan as ever (just ask my boss… I’m debating which Dolphins game to fly out to Miami for this season!)
So when it comes to the pigskin and the turf, I wondered how Eric felt now. I asked him, “What would you tell the football world now?” Admittedly, I was expecting his answer to be on the cautious side, but just like with his contagious smile, he surprised me and said, “Play hard. Every single play. You never know when it’s your last.”
Ever since I was six-years-old, my idol has always been the legendary Miami Dolphins quarterback, Dan Marino. I met Marino when I was 16-years-old, was completely star-struck, and could barely utter two words. Standing in front of him, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
With Eric, I got that same feeling. (Eric and I pictured at right.) Except it was when I went home Tuesday night and replayed the meeting in my head. I have been following Eric’s story for months but being able to just chat with him and his mom for a few minutes gave me a sense of what Christopher advocated for, “Nothing is impossible.”
So many people look up to Christopher and Dana. So many people now look up to Eric. So who does Eric look up to? Ray Lewis, linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens, and Terrell Davis, former running back of the Denver Broncos.
What do all of these people have in common? They are leaders. To quote Lombardi one more time, “Leadership is based on a spiritual quality --- the power to inspire, the power to inspire others to follow.”
Thank you Eric, Karen, and the entire paralysis community for being leaders. Let’s all join together and stand up for those who can’t!
Look for Eric on ESPN Thursday at 3:15 (EST) as he stops by to talk about rehab and life after his injury. (Update: Here is the link to Eric's ESPN appearance.)
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