Ex-Rutgers player Eric LeGrand’s WWE Warrior Award is an opportunity to raise awareness

Growing up during the WWE’s Attitude Era, Eric LeGrand idolized Kane, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, often subjecting his stuffed animals to the stars’ signature moves at his his family’s New Jersey home.

If you’d told LeGrand he’d one day join the latter in the WWE Hall of Fame, however, he’d have never believed you for a second.

“It never even crossed my mind,” LeGrand told FOX Sports this week. “I always liked (wrestling), but I never wanted to be beaten over the head with chairs and stuff like that, and I thought, ‘How else would you be involved?’”

Fortunately, there’s more than one way to be a part of the pro wrestling family, and on Monday, the WWE announced that LeGrand would be receiving the 2017 Warrior Award at its Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Orlando on March 31. He’ll also be honored alongside the rest of the Hall of Fame class at WrestleMania 33 at Camping World Stadium on April 2.

LeGrand, the former Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed during a 2010 game, is the third recipient of the award, which is named for the Ultimate Warrior and presented by late superstar’s widow to “an individual who has exhibited unwavering strength and perseverance, and who lives life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of Ultimate Warrior.”

Past honorees include 8-year-old Connor Michalek, who formed a bond with Daniel Bryan before he passed away to cancer in 2014, and longtime TV host Joan Lunden, who faced a public battle with triple-negative breast cancer after her 2014 diagnosis.

Now a motivational speaker and an advocate for others facing spinal cord injuries, LeGrand said it’s an honor to have his efforts recognized and that he hopes to encourage others fighting his fight by receiving the award.

“I’m getting to use my platform for millions of people who don’t have the platform to share about spinal cord injuries, what it’s about, and how it works, trying to raise money for research and raise hope,” said LeGrand, whose charity, Team LeGrand (part of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation) will also receive a $25,000 donation from WWE.

“A lot of people get hurt and don’t know a lot about it and may not know that people are out there fighting for research, fighting for funds and awareness,” LeGrand continued. “And when you get to see stuff like this on this stage — and not just WWE, but any stage — then it really helps give people hope that, one day, maybe they can walk again, and that they will be OK.”

LeGrand has also helped raise awareness through his show, “Mission Possible,” a six-episode web series profiling others battling disabilities. The next episode, which airs on Mar. 31, will focus on Rohan Murphy, a former Penn State wrestler who had his legs amputated at age 4. In it, Murphy and LeGrand spend a day at WWE headquarters with Triple-H and trainer Joe DeFranco.

“We always wanted to do an episode with Rohan, because that was his sport, that was his sanctuary — the gym and wrestling — and we thought, ‘That would be really cool if we could tie his story, somehow, with the WWE,’” said LeGrand, who initially approached DeFranco about the possibility of filming an episode early last year.

“A few months later we’re shooting with Rohan, working out in the WWE headquarters gym, showing what he’s about, sharing his story, having a good time,” LeGrand continued. “Then Paul comes in and introduces himself, and Joe’s up there putting him through the same workout Triple H does, and next thing we know we get invited to SummerSlam.”

In another upcoming episode, LeGrand teams up with professional wheelchair basketball player Jeremie Thomas for a day in the gym and a trip to the “Ballers” premiere with The Rock in Miami. And while it’s LeGrand who will be recognized on one of the world’s biggest stages for his own efforts later this month, he says it’s the stories he’s able to share that mean the most.

“I’ve always said that if you do good in this world, good comes back to you,” LeGrand said. “It’s been enjoyable filming and going into their lives and learning about them. It’s so rewarding to see their stories be told because a lot of times light is not shined upon them. And that’s what I’m here to do — use my platform to share their stories so they can have that moment.”

You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or email him at samgardnerfox@gmail.com.