Paralyzed LeGrand not feeling sorry for himself

Paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand doesn’t believe

in feeling sorry for himself, getting angry or wondering ”Why

me?”

It’s not his style.

The 20-year-old said his injury while making a tackle on a

kickoff return against Army on Oct. 16 at New Meadowlands Stadium,

was a one-in-five-million longshot that happened because fate or

God intervened.

”There is a reason why it happened, that’s what I truly

believe,” LeGrand said in a his first open meeting with the media

on Monday. ”I was picked for this to happen to. Some people can’t

go through injuries like this, it would just put them down. I just

believe God put me through this because he knows I can fight

through this.”

Don’t ever doubt that.

The junior defensive tackle is going to rehabilitation three

times a week. He’s finishing off an economics course. He’s thinking

about becoming a sportscaster. And all along, he’s believing with

all his might that one day, he will walk again.

When that will happen, LeGrand doesn’t know. He just knows he

will.

That’s all that matters.

”I will walk again,” he said. ”I believe that.”

Looking at LeGrand as he says that, it seems hard to

believe.

A one-time barrel-chested athlete, LeGrand now sits in a big

wheelchair with foot and hand rests to keep his limbs in place. A

plastic tube is close to his mouth, and when he blows into it, the

wheelchair moves from one room to another at the rural home where

he is now living not far from the Six Flags Great Adventure

amusement park.

”The toughest part is not being able to do everything I want,”

LeGrand said. ”But I am living life the best I can. I am thankful

for what I have.”

LeGrand knows things can be worse. During his extended

rehabilitation at Kessler Institute in West Orange, N.J., he saw

people who couldn’t talk or eat.

He also admits that life isn’t perfect. He cried four or five

times on Sunday because he had talked to friends about their plans

and it made him realize what he was missing.

And anger is part of his life, as well, especially when he is

trying to do an exercise and he can’t get it done.

But he remains strong. And he gets over it.

”I know there is no room to get angry,” LeGrand said. ”In

time, it will happen. You have to be patient. I’m learning because

I have never been a patient person. I’m learning through this that

you have to be patient. It will all come back in time. I am young.

I was healthy and my body just has to heal itself.”

The longer one sits and talks to LeGrand, the less one sees of

his wheelchair. Soon, the focus becomes the face of the young man

who seemingly never ceases to smile, who enjoys a good laugh and

who is as positive as a person can be.

”I am the same exact person,” he said, ”and I always will be

the same exact person.”

But now, he has a story to tell to the masses. And LeGrand has

been overwhelmed by the support he has received from around the

country, and from sports personalities and teams that have been

inspired by that story.

There are things that are back to normal these days, too. In

fact, he has developed a longing for food from Rutgers’ notorious

grease trucks, especially a craving for a Fat Betty Boy with no

marinara and ketchup. In other words, that is a cheeseburger,

mozzarella sticks, grilled chicken, French fries and ketchup –

health food for a carefree, college football player.

LeGrand, who will turn 21 in September, believes he will defy

the odds. He chuckles when asked about his doctors. They told him

he would never get off a ventilator. They told him he would never

be able to breath on his own.

Five weeks later, he proved them wrong.

”I don’t talk to the doctors,” he said. ”They don’t really

bother me.”

Instead, he works with his physical therapist. And the results

are obvious.

Almost as if to show off, LeGrand flexed a pectoral muscle. It

might seem a minor thing for the average person, but it’s not, his

mother said.

”Just to have one muscle come back and to feel it, it’s huge,”

Karen LeGrand said. ”It’s huge, because it is one more step to the

next one, and the next one. Just to have feeling in his fingertips,

it’s all major steps since he left Kessler.”

He felt none of that after tackling Army’s Malcolm Brown late in

the fourth quarter during that October game in East Rutherford,

N.J.

LeGrand only remembers coach Greg Schiano coming on the field

and telling him to pray to God, be positive and to start

”choppin”’ through this right now. Of course, the latter command

was in reference to Rutgers’ mantra – ”Keep Choppin”’ – that

Schiano installed during a run in which the Scarlet Knights made

five bowls in a six-year span.

LeGrand, an Avenel, N.J., resident, bought into that philosophy

on that critical day. He remembers talking to his mother, getting

in the ambulance, and having an oxygen mask being put over his

face.

The next thing he remembers was that it was Wednesday.

And people told him he talked over the next four days. But he

doesn’t remember it.

LeGrand suffered a fracture to his C3 and C4 vertebrae. He has

sensation in his body, and can tell when a person puts pressure on

a certain part of his body. But he has been unable to move his arms

or legs since being hurt.

LeGrand has visited the team twice, including once recently when

sophomore Jordan Thomas was knocked out at a spring practice.

While the hit was scary, LeGrand said he was OK with it. For

now, he looks forward to the day when he can lead the team back on

the field.

”It’s motivation to me everyday,” he said. ”It’s all in God’s

hands when he wants me to get up and lead that team at that right

time. Who knows when it will be? But I know he will let me do it.

And that’s my motivation.”

Until then, LeGrand continues to work and be a source of

inspiration for his family.

”I had no idea that Eric was so strong and mature,” Karen

LeGrand said. ”He’s actually matured right in front of my own

eyes. He was a your typical 19- or 20-year-old football player, you

know, goofy, silly and annoying, the whole bit. He has grown up so

much right in front of my eyes, I am so proud of him.”

As the words come out, Karen LeGrand’s eyes welled with

water.

”I had no idea of his strength,” she said. ”I knew he was

always strong, strong-minded, but the courage he has shown me has

absolutely amazed me. It helps me so much to know he is that

strong, I feed off his strength, believe it or not. When I get

down, I just look at him and how can I be down? Look at this kid!

He is not down, He is still fighting.

”So, I am not going to be down.”