Eric LeGrand exclusive: A story of faith, courage, and determination
Toms River-- Trauma from a life changing event is something very unique to every individual who is steered into a new direction in life. In the time following a tackle on special teams for former Rutgers defenseman Eric LeGrand, who was given a minuscule chance of ever walking again, it is his faith in God that helps him see things in a new light.
"It keeps me at peace knowing that this happened for a reason, and that I'm here to do greater things with my situation then playing the game of football," said LeGrand. "I really believe that I was put here (on earth) for a reason, to help other people out, to add adversity to their life, or just open up their eyes to different opportunities in this world...they can realize a lot of stuff too."
Yet it is the strength of his faith that guides him towards clarity and peace but also gives anyone looking from the outside, a look at a man of great faith, courage and determination.
"I thanked God before, I pray every night but I always thank him for what I do have and what He's blessed me with and...I say my prayers," said LeGrand.
LeGrand's faith allows him to be more at ease and enjoy what the day has to offer, and keeps him pushing towards his goal of one day returning to MetLife Stadium, laying on the field where he was hit, and then getting up and walking off so he could finish the play.
His sense of humor...well that just shows his character. For instance in the middle of speaking to a crowd at the Ocean County Library on July 18th, the intercom sounded off asking an individual to come to the desk.
What could of been awkward silence for many giving a speech, became a moment of wide grins around the room as Eric started laughing along with everyone else at the randomness of the intercom call, and everyone couldn't help but join in the laughter.
But before all this and even in the days and months to come, his work ethic in daily life helps him conquer the challenges he endures.
"The most challenging part is not doing what I want to do when I want to do it and having to rely on somebody in the morning," said LeGrand. "It's a two hour process with the nurses, and then if I want to go somewhere I'd have to ask somebody...'can you bring me here? can you bring me there', that's probably the hardest part with this injury. Sometimes it gets rough, but I deal with it and I have great friends and family."
He adds there are times when he wishes he can just get in a car and go places, but every week he continues progressing towards his goal at rehab.
"I'm still in therapy two times a week on Tuesday's and Thursday's and I'm working out my back muscles a lot," said LeGrand. "I've regained a lot of those (back muscles) trying to contract them and stay as healthy as possible."
He adds being able to do that twice a week is helping to strengthen his back muscles in some of the standing exercises he does at rehab.
Still all these years following the hit at MetLife, Legrand is showing all of us how we can hope to do better and in his humility he feels his goals are reachable.
"My long term goal is kind of still my short term goal because I'm still hoping and praying for that cure one day," said Legrand. "Whatever I can regain back through this injury... through this injury myself, that's what I work for."
Legrand hopes to one day get enough strength back into his arms so he could be more independent.
"If I can get myself into one of those push (wheel)chairs, I could be able to live on my own, be able to drive again...things like that," said LeGrand. "Of course those are goals of mine, but I don't get discouraged (when) they don't happen because this is something I can't control."
He says this is something he'll have to be patient with as he continues to work his way toward his goals.
LeGrand at the beginning and end of everyday is still a man in his mid-twenties (he'll turn 26 later this year), who looks to just go out and have fun with his friends and enjoy the change of weather here in New Jersey.
"I love things like this (speaking at the O.C. library), being able to come out and speak to the community and share my story with them," said LeGrand. "I love to travel, I'm always traveling somewhere."
Monday night he told the crowd of his recent trip to Mexico and Miami, one place where he was filming a show.
"I love the warm weather...anytime it's warm I'm out and about," said Legrand. "When it's cold I hibernate."
Also new to his life is an 11-week old puppy who Legrand says keeps him busy, but is something he certainly enjoys taking care of.
Everyday from the moment he wakes up until he falls asleep there are still many challenges he faces in a given day, but there's also time for plenty of fun and laughter.
"It's right in the morning when my nurses first come, that's the biggest challenge," said LeGrand. "They get me up out of bed in a sling and then I have to get showered and washed up, go to the bathroom, and also do my teeth and then get dressed."
That's just the beginning part of the day which he says is about a two-hour process to get going each morning.
Then on days when he has therapy he'll head downstairs, grab some lunch, and then head into the car for the 45-minute drive to the rehab facility.
But sometimes when he comes home he goes out with friends or for walks with his mom and new puppy.
On top of that there are public events where Legrand shares his story with so many attentive listeners, and for most people to get up in front of a crowd it takes courage to succeed in public speaking, but the former Rutgers star has something to share with all.
Whoever is in the audience there is always a story he wants to share, and there is a short but important life lesson.
"Be the best person you can be, that's my main goal," said LeGrand. "If you can be the best person you can be everyday you'll shock yourself on some of the things you get done or accomplished in your life and also be appreciative for the things that you do have."
To go further he puts things into perspective.
"No matter how bad you may think you may have it in this world, someone always has it worse," said LeGrand. "I had it bad, compared to what though? How bad do you really have it? It makes a lot of people open their eyes especially when they see me sitting here in a chair and I can't even lift up my arms and give them a handshake, and they're like 'wow' I really better stop complaining about it."
To be able to tell his story in front of not just dozens of people but to the entire country is something he is comfortable doing.
"I've become comfortable sharing my story," said LeGrand. "People were asking me in the beginning to write my speech down...I don't like to write something down...I like to just come right from the heart."
It may be the same story he's telling LeGrand adds, but whether there is five people in the room or thousands there is always a new way to tell the story.
When it comes to the state of football today with all the head injuries leading the gateway of concern, Legrand's advice for parents on the fence of signing their kids up comes from the heart of a man who loves the game.
"It's a dangerous game (and) there's definitely a risk to play...but that was the best teacher of life for me, helping me become the person I am today and if I had a kid I'd let him go play," said Legrand. "I think they're doing a great job now making these Pop Warner coaches become certified so they know how to teach the right techniques."
From the NFL down to college and the youth, Legrand believes the proper steps are being taken to address some of the health concerns surrounding the game today.
But anyone whose ever played the game can agree with LeGrand on how many life lessons are learned on that field.
There are a lot of people in his life, be it family, friends, teammates, etc. that have impacted Eric's life in one or more ways, but there is someone very close to him that has inspired him most of all.
"My mom by the way she...gave up her whole life just to want to take care of me and help me (and) be there for me to make sure I have the best of everything," said Legrand. "It inspires me to want to get better so that she can go back to living the life that she wants to live and not having to take care of me."