Six-and-a-half years after suffering a freak injury on the football field, Rutgers legend Eric LeGrand continues to be an inspiration for many – recalling his trials and tribulations at Weehawken High School on Friday.
With the attention of hundreds of students, LeGrand recalled the fateful day, October 16, 2010, where he suffered a severe spinal injury after a routine special teams tackle went horribly wrong.
“The trainers come over to me and they’re like ‘E, can you feel this? Can you feel that?’ And I’m just saying “I can’t breathe.’ That’s all it sounded like. ‘Can you move this? Can you move that? Can you handle your neck? And I just said ‘I can’t breathe,” LeGrand explained.
“From there, they brought my head coach out, Greg Schiano, and when he came out I remember he looked down at me and said ‘E, you have to pray.’ And honestly, when he told me that, I thought my life was over: I can’t move, I can’t breathe and now my coach is telling me I have to pray.”
While LeGrand was carted off the field at MetLife Stadium that day, fans were encouraged by the fact that he gave a thumbs up to the crowd on the way out.
Also recalling the overwhelming support he felt from friends, family and the football community in the immediate aftermath of his injury, LeGrand told the story about going from being particularly restless while watching a Rutgers game in his hospital bed to suddenly waking up disoriented on a stretcher.
“I come to find out I had a 105.5 degree fever, .5 degrees away from frying my brain for the rest of my life if they couldn’t figure out what was causing the fever and to get it down, give me medicine … The last thing the doctors told my mom was ‘we’re hoping he pulls through the night.'”
The motivational speaker also told the crowd about the moment that changed his life forever: when a young girl staying at the hospital didn’t make it through the night.
“I come to find out that girl didn’t make it through the night, she didn’t make it through the surgery,” he said, remembering the sad, distraught faces of family and friends – many of them teenagers.
“I said right then and there to myself: whatever I need to do, if I need to pray, if I need to relax, I need to start working harder I’m gonna do it so my family, my friends and my teammates never have to leave the hospital … seeing this kids faces, it was devastating, a bunch of kids your age.”
During a question and answer session with students, LeGrand said he’d like to be remembered as a hero when asked what he hopes his legacy will be.
Following up, another student wanted to know who LeGrand considers his personal hero.
“I have a few, one of them of course being my mom because she just dropped everything in her life, that she needed to do or wanted to do, just so she could take care of me,” the former defensive end stated.
His other hero is Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-3), who was paralyzed from the neck down during his first football game with Penn State on September 23, 2000.
Amazingly, he was able to walk again after just eight months or rehab. LeGrand said he still believes the day will come when he can do the same.
“It makes me realize, if he did that, it may take me a little longer, but why can’t I do that same thing?”
LeGrand has been bestowed numerous awards for his civic engagement since his injury, including the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2012 ESPYs, being named the 2012 most influential person in New Jersey sports by The Star-Ledger and receiving the Warrior Award from the WWE last month during their annual Hall of Fame ceremony.