What does it take to be a hero? Some might say that it is the words and deeds that inspire the masses. Others claim a hero is one who never gives up, no matter the odds.
Whatever the definition of a hero, Eric LeGrand, former Rutgers football player, is certain to meet it. Ever since LeGrand fractured two vertebrae in his neck during a game in 2010, he’s been two things: a quadriplegic defying doctors’ expectations and an inspiration to anyone who hears his story.
Added to that ever-growing list are the students of Fisher Middle School in Ewing, and several students of the College who, as a result of their student teaching at Fisher, were lucky enough to be in the audience as LeGrand spoke there this past Friday.
“I’m here to show people that miracles do happen,” LeGrand said.
LeGrand’s motto in life is “Believe,” which also serves as his primary message to those who hear him speak. He taught students the value of self-belief and belief that there is a plan in life for everyone.
“I always wanted to be in the NFL, ever since I was five years old. And then all of a sudden I’m lying there on the ground paralyzed,” LeGrand said. “I thought that my dream of football was going to be my road, but it wasn’t. I’m here to inspire people out there in the world, and help them get through their situations. Everyone has struggles, everyone faces adversity, and that’s what I’m here to show you — no matter what the situation is, you can handle it.”
LeGrand has been living by his words, travelling the country to give inspirational talks like the one he gave at Fisher Middle School.
“I’ve been all over talking to people, but being able to be here, right in Jersey, it’s been great,” LeGrand said.
Speaking at a relatively small middle school in Ewing is a change from LeGrand’s typical venue. Since his injury, LeGrand has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the focus of an Outside the Lines documentary (well worth the 20 minutes it takes to watch), and was presented with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPYs. LeGrand is proud of his ESPY.
“I keep my ESPY right under my TV stand,” he said. “We’re moving into our new house soon, and I’m going to make a man cave, but I’m gonna keep it in my room. That’s my ESPY, it doesn’t get any better than that!”
However, the decision to speak at the school was one that came easily to LeGrand.
“Children are our future,” LeGrand said. “If I can inspire them with the few words I can say, hopefully that will go a long way. I hope that the kids bring home that they can truly do anything that they set their minds to, no matter what the situation.”
The students seemed touched by LeGrand’s message and his presence, which was kept secret from the student body up until the moment he actually appeared onstage.
“When he came out, I thought I was gonna cry,” said eighth grader Caroline Unger. “We saw the video, (a showing of LeGrand’s OTL piece), and we thought that was all we were gonna do.”
“He taught us to keep pushing on even when it seems like everything can’t get better,” eighth grader Vincent Hall said.
The students agreed that this was easily the best assembly they’d ever been to. And they weren’t the only ones.
“The students showed it all,” said Eric Thomas, the event’s organizer. “They were crying, and not from sadness, but from inspiration and hope.”
The inspiration and hope goes both ways.
“It’s all you guys that inspire me,” LeGrand said. “I look on my Facebook and my Twitter and see other people saying that I’m inspiring them to do this or do that, and that keeps me going, it makes me feel like I have a purpose in this world, how can I let them down (by giving up)?”
LeGrand certainly has no plans to give up. He’s decided to do something much different — believe in himself, defy the odds, and walk again.
That’s when he’ll really start his work.
“When I do walk again,” LeGrand said, “I plan on going all around the world, sharing (to everyone) my story and my miracle.”