Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Few Minutes With Eric LeGrand

How was your morning?

Traffic bad? Somebody cut you off on the road, leading to some frustration?

Was the milk expired? Maybe you had no clean socks?

Or maybe life's just a little too frazzling right about now. 

When TigerBlog came into Jadwin Gym this morning, he heard the sound of basketballs pounding the main court. Since today is the day that football is starting, not basketball, he immediately thought he was hearing a pickup game.

He quickly realized that the sounds emanating from the gym were too athletic to be the normal Jadwinites. In fact, it had to be the Princeton men's basketball team.

Then TB remembered that the Tigers are on their way to Spain in a week, and this was Day 1 of preparation for the trip.

TB peered around the corner just in time for the basketball's to stop. As he did, he was struck by something else - the presence of a camera crew, one that turned out to be from ESPN.

And then, off to the side, he saw the young man in the wheelchair. Immediately he recognized him as Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers football player who was paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle against Army in the 2010 season.

That was nearly two years ago.

Today, as he nears his 22nd birthday, he is much more known for his story and the inspirational approach that he has to his life than he was when he played for Rutgers.

And it was in that capacity that he was in Jadwin, to talk to the men's basketball team, share his story and just spend some time with some other guys his own age, college athletes, just like he was before his injury.

It was hard to hear LeGrand, largely because of the air conditioner that was echoing through the main court. He spoke softly, possibly because he is unable to speak any louder.

According to his bio, he weighed 275 pounds when he played football at Rutgers. Today, he probably weighs 100 pounds less, but he looks fairly fit, like he just happened to sit down in the chair to start his talk.

He moves his head, neck and shoulders pretty easily, way more so than TB figured he'd be able to do. His vow is to walk again - and TB would never sell him short, not with the continuing evolution of medicine and technology combined with what is obviously an amazing will.

LeGrand's message came through clearly, even if not every word did.

He spoke about how he attacks his therapy, how his experiences as a football player help him through his recovery, how he's there for the others he meets who are going through similar situations. He started out by talking about the injury itself, how it happened, how he felt like he couldn't breath and ultimately how when he was being wheeled off the field he couldn't give the crowd the thumbs up.

LeGrand wore a Tampa Bay Buccaneers shirt, and it was his former college coach, Greg Schiano, who signed him to a contract when he took over the Bucs this past off-season. LeGrand then retired the next day.

Before he left, Princeton's players gave him a Tiger basketball jersey with his RU football number of 52 on it, as well as a pair of sneakers, before they all posed for pictures together.

It was almost better not to be able to hear everything that he was saying. In this way, it gave a casual feel to the talk, and he was very much a college kid talking to other college kids.

He laughed easily. He talked about how he could dunk. He mentioned his Twitter and Facebook accounts. He told them to have a great time on their trip.

He talked about going to the ESPY's last year and what a great time he had there. He mentioned seeing Heisman Trophy-winner Robert Griffin III from Baylor and Donald Driver of the Green Bay Packers and how he was treated like a big deal when the show was over.

In fact, he is a big deal.

He's a young man whose life was turned completely upside down in an unfortunate instance. And yet here he is now, filled with determination, living his life as fully as he can, determined to do whatever he can to allow his body to catch up to his mind one day.

TigerBlog wasn't expecting to hear basketballs bouncing in Jadwin this morning. And he wasn't expecting to see Eric LeGrand powering himself across the court to talk to the Tigers.

It just works out that way sometimes.

LeGrand gives off an "anyone in this situation would handle it the same way" vibe, but let's face it. Even if he's right, nobody wants to have to find out.

For whatever reason, he's the one in the chair. He's the one who makes the nuisances of a normal morning feel somewhat trivial, simply with the manner in which he is going about his morning.

It's not his speech. It's not how he delivers it.

It's how normal he seems. How ordinary it was, to have a Rutgers athlete talk to some Princeton athletes.

That's what makes Eric LeGrand extraordinary.

Will he walk again?

TB hopes he does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful words TB