Eric LeGrand: 2 Years Later
Meet Eric LeGrand at Stroll 'N Roll on Sunday, October 21st
Eric LeGrand dreams that he's walking. That's how his new books, Believe: My Faith and the Tackle that Changed my Life and Believe: The Victorious Story of Eric LeGrand, begin. Then he chronicles his upbringing, and how it prepared him for the biggest challenge of his life. Eric has had quite a journey since he was paralyzed in the Rutgers vs. Army football game on October 16th, 2010. In his 15 years of playing football, he made thousands of tackles. This one left him unable to get up and he knew exactly what happened. Little did he know that what started out as a tragic injury would inspire a nation.
Eric is one of the most beloved figures in all of sports. His bright smile, determination, motivation, and his "never stop" attitude in the face of adversity lift the spirits of everyone around him and inspire them to do better. Kessler Foundation gets a unique perspective.
Five days a week, Eric makes the trip from Woodbridge, NJ to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation’s West Orange campus. He’s a popular figure at Kessler, saying a quick hello or accepting words of encouragement from anyone who passes by. “I’m here so much that I should be on the payroll,” he jokes. Then he starts four hours of intensive therapy. Right after his injury, Eric would fall asleep after 15 minutes of therapy. Now, he has energy to burn.
Eric participates in locomotor training therapy, an active, repetitive exercise program started by the Christopher and Dana Reeve NeuroRecovery Network (NRN). Kessler Foundation, in conjunction with Kessler Institute, is one of only six centers in the US that offer this exciting new therapy. Harnessed over a treadmill, therapists move Eric’s legs in a walking motion. The repetitive movement is designed to retrain the nervous system and improve mobility.
When Eric started locomotor training in October 2011, he had no movement or sensation below his neck. His head leaned against the headrest of his power wheelchair. His shoulders were limp. Sitting up on his own was impossible. But where others see obstacles, Eric only sees possibility.
Today, Eric doesn't have to use the headrest. He moves his shoulders as he speaks. And he can sit and balance himself for minutes at a time, something no one predicted. He also feels sensation in his hands and his toes. To some, these milestones may seem small. But to Eric, and anyone unable to walk, they make huge differences in daily living. As a result of his increased mobility, getting dressed is much easier. People don’t have to struggle to support his football player-size body. He feels more independent and happy knowing he can assist others in his care.
“My whole life has changed since I started therapy. My ultimate goal is to get back on my feet and walk. But right now, I’m thankful for any function I get back that will improve my quality of life,” Eric explained.
Eric has the highest level of injury of any individual who has trained in the NRN. “We didn’t know what to expect when we started Eric in the locomotor training program,” said Gail Forrest, PhD, assistant director of Human Performance and Engineering Research at Kessler Foundation and director of the Kessler NRN site. “So far, his progress is remarkable. It has made us rethink our approach to individuals with high level spinal cord injuries. With aggressive therapy, they may be able to achieve greater gains than previously thought." The NRN is about more than walking," explained Dr. Forrest. "Our goal is to improve health and prevent the further decline that often results from prolonged sitting and inactivity. While research is ongoing, we find that when people get moving through active weight-bearing exercise, their bone density, circulation, and heart and lung function improve.”
After an hour of walking on the treadmill, Eric works with therapists on floor exercises—including balance, bicep curls, and reaching to the sky. While four hours of therapy every week day would be almost too much for most people, his mental strength enables him to push harder every minute. “Every day, I just look to the people for inspiration. I go on my Facebook and Twitter pages and read all the nice things that people say to me. I take it as a responsibility to show them that miracles really do happen in this world and they’ll see that when I get out of this chair,” Eric stated. “All I need people to do is just believe in me and know that anything is possible.”
Aside from his therapy, Eric has a very busy schedule. He’s taking three classes at Rutgers University to complete his degree in labor studies, learning about the employment laws for people with and without disabilities. In his “free” time, Eric is on air broadcasting for Rutgers Radio. He also travels around the country, inspiring others to overcome their challenges.
In the past year, Eric appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, been drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and presented with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPYs. In his home state, he was presented with the Unsung Hero Award by the New Jersey Hall of Fame and was named the most influential person in NJ sports by The Star-Ledger.
And now, Eric is an ambassador for Kessler Foundation. On October 21st, he’ll be at the Foundation’s 11th Annual Stroll ‘N Roll (and RUN!). Stroll 'N Roll, in Brookdale Park, features USATF-certified 5K and 10K courses for runners and wheelchair racers, a 5K Stroll 'N Roll, a Kids' Activity Zone, and exhibit booths. Eric will also be at Kessler Foundation's Monte Carlo Night at The Grove on November 15th, an evening of live music headlined by Ben Vereen, featuring casino table games, horse racing, an exclusive Texas Hold 'Em Tournament, and music and cocktails. He will accept the Kessler Foundation's first Community Inspirational Leadership Award. For more information and registration for either of these events, visit www.kesslerfoundation.org/SNR or www.kesslerfoundation.org/montecarlo.
“Kessler has been instrumental in my recovery so I’m happy to be an ambassador for Kessler Foundation,” Eric stated. “I’ll do anything I can to support research and improve the lives of people with paralysis.”
Despite his injury, Eric still loves football just as much—if not more—as he did prior to the tackle. He believes everything happens for a reason. “If someone gets hurt, they are destined for bigger and better things than football. Even though I played for fifteen years, my path wasn’t football. My life changed, but now I’m doing other things, and better things,” Eric said. “Now, I have opportunities that never existed prior to my injury. I’m able to reach out to so many different people and give them inspiration. I think that’s what I’m here to do.”
While no one knows whether Eric will walk again, his motto to “bELieve” keeps him focused on achieving his goals and his positive attitude will help him overcome any challenge.