I’ve always had goals. It’s what makes an athlete. I always wanted to be the best for me and my team—my band of brothers—so I trained and invested every ounce of energy into becoming a titan on the football field. It was my identity—Eric LeGrand the standout college football player. It was my world, my life.
There are moments that change everything. And, for me, that moment happened playing defensive tackle for Rutgers University in October 2010. I rushed Army player Malcolm Brown. He swerved and my head collided with his shoulder. I could not move. I could not breath. My coach stood over me and told me to pray. For a split second, I thought it was all over. But that moment marks my rebirth, my transformation into who I am today.
One day, your goal is being drafted into the NFL. The next, it’s teaching your body to move again. The mindset is no different. My inner athlete has taught me well as I approach rehab with the same tenacity and sheer force of will as I did on the field. For hours each day, I work to achieve the slightest of movements to rewire my body and remind it of its potential. Small gains add up to big wins so I celebrate when I can move my arm even one degree more or sit up for more than a split second. I have a new team. I fortunate to have the best therapists who keep me grinding, especially on days when my body refuses to cooperate. Now, being the best means showing up and never giving up on my dream—a new dream—of getting back on the football field and walking to the end zone.
On the day I was reborn, I was given a new path in life. While I spend a lot of time focused on my recovery, it is not enough to simply focus on myself and my world. I was injured during a nationally televised football game so that meant I had the support of millions and a stage to share my story. I take my role as an ambassador for the paralysis community very seriously and teamed up with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to form Team LeGrand. Our mission is simple—we are going to discover cures for spinal cord injury. When I was first injured, I was told recovery was impossible. I don’t like that word and refuse to acknowledge it. History is written by people who don’t accept the idea of “impossible”.
Through my work with Team LeGrand I learned about the Mobility Unlimited Challenge - a global challenge to develop the next generation of mobility devices for people living with paralysis. These inventors and engineers look at the world in a different way. They don’t accept the status quo. And they don’t accept that any problem is unsolvable - they don’t believe in impossible.
So being asked to serve as a member of the jury was a huge privilege - who wouldn’t want to see inside the minds of so many brilliant people from across the world!
The first thing most people think of when I try to explain the Mobility Unlimited Challenge is “build a better wheelchair” but there’s so much more going on. The finalists selected by me and the other judges have created totally different concepts for the future of mobility. Sure, there is a wheelchair among the five finalists, but there’s also two exoskeleton systems, a leg-sleeve, and even an integrated transit network. They’ve taken their concepts far beyond what anyone has ever imagined helping individuals like me achieve greater independence and quality of life.
When I was first injured, I was told I would never breath without a ventilator. After five weeks I was breathing independently. I was even told I would never eat solids - now I eat what I want and enjoy all foods except most vegetables (because I hate them). I was told I would never have sensation in my body. Slowly, I have regained some feeling and even some movement. These are things that people take for granted. But when you are told something is impossible, you must treat that as a challenge. That’s what keeps me focused through rehab. That’s what motivates me to raise money to find cures and treatments for all individuals living with spinal cord injury. And, that is what gets me so excited about the finalists of the Mobility Unlimited Challenge because we are united by one goal—to change the world.