Inspirational speaker Eric LeGrand (center) is pictured during his recent visit to Red Bank Regional, surrounded by just a few of his fans. Left to right: Ella Brockway; Richard Bakalian; Dontrell Alston; Jalen Willis; Luke Jurek; Tyrese Morris; Al Zager, ESQ (Class of 1966); Risa Clay (Principal, RBR); Dr. Bill Setaro (Class of 1966); Evenel Garriao.
Press release from Red Bank Regional High School
“My head coach told me to pray,” recalled Eric LeGrand of the fateful day in 2010, and the play that changed his life forever. “I thought my life was over.”
Speaking from the stage of the Red Bank Regional High School auditorium, the former Rutgers football star recounted in a soft-spoken voice the moment of impact to his head, when he suddenly could no longer take a breath. He described the blur of the next few days, when he would wake intermittently to a room full of doctors and later to an empty room filled with noisy machines. Then, finally one day he opened his eyes to the delight of smiling loved ones and teammates. He remembers being excited that the former coach of the NFL’s Giants came to visit him — and he considers himself fortunate for not initially knowing the magnitude of his condition at the time, having broken his C3 and C4 vertebrae.
On Tuesday, December 7, RBR welcomed the motivational speaker who, after being paralyzed from an injury sustained during his junior year, went on to work as a sports broadcaster, support a foundation dedicated to curing paralysis, and lead a most inspirational and consequential life. LeGrand’s visit was made possible in part by a grant from the Red Bank High School Class of 1966.
“I was the lucky one, the people around me suffered,” explained LeGrand, after screening a biographical video for the rapt audience of 750 students. “The doctors told my mom that I would never walk or eat solid food or breathe on my own.”
With the grit and determination instilled into him from years of practicing his beloved sport, he decided to prove the doctors wrong. Today he breathes on his own, and demonstratesjust how much progress he has made in regaining movement, as he shimmies his upper body all around in his wheelchair. And he is determined someday to walk back onto the field at High Point Solutions Stadium and“finish the play.”
“I am lucky.” He stated, “I can continue to go to therapy…most people on regular insurance only get 30 visits.”
When a student asked if he could eat solid food he replied, “Did you see this gut?”
When asked if he was ever depressed or bitter, he recounted the stories of two people whose stories touched him during his journey to recovery. One he never met, but witnessed the pain and suffering of her loved ones, when they realized that the young woman who was rushed to emergency did not survive. He never wanted his loved ones to endure that pain.
Then in rehab, he met a spirited young man who became his good buddy. They would hang out in his room together since Rutgers treated him very well, providing satellite service forTV and xbox for entertainment. Weeks after his discharge, Eric met his friend at an out-patient wheelchair fitting, only to discover that his friend no longer recognized him, since the cancerous tumor which caused his initial paralysis had spread to his brain. The young man died soon after.
“It put a lot of things in perspective. I decided I would never complain again,” he told the students.
“Focus on the things you do have and not on the things you don’t. For whatever you have, someone else always has it worse. I appreciate being able to take a breath each and every day.”
He also refused to criticize football, stating that he would do it all again, as “football gave me so much and made me the man I am today.” He also holds no enmity toward the player involved in his injury, telling the students, “I was the one who tackled him.”
When asked who his mentors are and who gives him inspiration, he named his mentors as Tim Tebow and Tommy Moffett, both sports celebrities who he was honored to meet and get to know. But, his most devout inspiration is reserved for his mom.
“Everything she does, she does for me,” he said. “Learning how to take care of a paraplegic, bringing me here, helping on the foundation, taking care of a puppy. She gave up her life for me. She is my inspiration and my motivation.”
The students were enthralled by Eric, and continued to pepper him with questions. When he spoke there was silence in an auditorium filled with 750 teenagers.
LeGrand, who explained that he was able to finish his degree via Skype (and that dictating all of his term papers was not easy), concluded his visit telling the students, “I believe everything in this world happens for a reason. I was put here to help. Christopher Reeve, Superman, started this research before he died. I feel I took over his job.
“I want to live out his dream and keep raising money and awareness. Live your everyday life. Be the best you can be. Be appreciative for every moment. And don’t ever let anybody tell you (that) you can’t do something.”