Eric LeGrand’s life changed in 2010 when he sustained a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the neck down. But the former Rutgers University football star isn’t letting his injury hold him back.
LeGrand was hurt during a fourth quarter play of a Rutgers-Army game at MetLife Stadium. Because of the resulting spinal cord injury at his C3 and C4 vertebrae, the former defensive tackle can’t walk and gets around in a motorized wheelchair. Even still, he’s focused on believing in the possibility of walking again and, along the way, inspiring others, too.
“Why can’t you go out there and do what you want to do?” he asked. “That’s my whole message. Overcome adversity.”
The 29-year-old travels the country as a motivational speaker. His book “Believe: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life” inspires readers to believe in themselves too.
LeGrand, who has also served as a sports analyst for ESPN, Sirius, the Big Ten Network, and Rutgers Radio, decided to become a motivational speaker because he knew he had a story to tell and loves being around people.
He credits his support system, including his mother, family members, friends, and former teammates, with helping him stay positive.
“The more people have seen my story, the more people have supported me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” he said. “Whether it’s running me to therapy or running me to a speaking engagement, it’s amazing to see how many people are wishing and praying for me.”
He launched his Team LeGrand foundation in September 2013 to help others living with spinal cord injuries and their families by supporting quality of life initiatives and emerging therapies, all with the goal of finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.
His foundation, which is a fundraising arm for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, has already raised over $1 million. Team LeGrand holds annual events that include flag football and cornhole competitions.
On a personal front, LeGrand has regained movement in his shoulders and some sensation throughout his body. He continues to undergo rigorous physical therapy and has a never-quit attitude.
“I have so many looking to me to be an inspiration, I have to do this for them,” he said. “Not only for myself, but there’s a bigger cause to this whole thing.”
His new clothing line Shop 52 sells “roll model” hats and shirts, featuring a wheelchair and his number, 52.
Amidst all his successes, LeGrand says getting his degree in labor relations in 2014 is his proudest moment.
“It was the very beginning of my junior year when I got hurt. I just very easily could have said I’m done but I started taking classes via Skype,” he said. “It was something I wanted to do for myself, my family, to have that diploma on the wall. That was my biggest accomplishment.”
LeGrand enjoys connecting with his fans, especially those on social media, who are very supportive.
“I can’t let them down,” he said. “On tough days, I think about people who are in similar situations to the one I’m in. That don’t have the same platform I have, they aren’t able to share their stories like I am.
“I live an amazing, blessed life,” he said. “I have nothing to complain about.”
Next, he’s determined to get back on his feet.
“I want to walk again, and I want to raise as much money and awareness as I can for the spinal cord injury world and my foundation to give people hope that, one day, they can walk again as well.”
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