By Susan Hendricks, HLN
As I sit and wait in a room inside Yankee stadium to meet Eric LeGrand I am feeling a little nervous. His story is surely difficult for him to relive. I hope I don’t tear up.
It’s been more than a year since his life changed forever. Does he get tired of talking about his injury? What I will soon learn is that negativity is not an option for Eric LeGrand.
The day couldn’t be more perfect. It's 65 degrees at Yankee Stadium -- an ideal day for a college football game between Rutgers and Army. The transformation was amazing. The state of the art Yankee stadium is now a football venue. It's amazing how that’s possible.
I watched as the band for each team took to the field to practice for the halftime show. Flags surround the stadium and fans dressed in red for Rutgers and Black for Army start to trickle in.
This sight brings me back to my childhood. Rutgers football is a huge part of it. Every weekend my sister and I would go to their home games with my father. To this day my father rarely misses a game -- and will never forget the fateful game on October 16, 2010. LeGrand was knocked down on a play against Army after colliding with Malcolm Brown during a kick off return. He never got up. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who treats his players like sons, thinks “Please be knocked out ... Eric is not moving ... this is not good.”
Eric can’t breathe and can’t move. Coach Schaino rushes to his side. Eric says “coach please don’t let me die.” My father is in the stands on that day. You could hear a pin drop, he says. Eric is carried off the field and tries to give a thumbs up -- but can’t. Eric is paralyzed from the neck down. His life will never be same. But the injury did not and will not change Eric’s spirit and his amazing ability to change lives.
The door opens and Eric is there with four other people. I sit with two lights and two cameras. Eric is dressed in a Rutgers Football sweatshirt and hat (because of his injury, Eric has to stay warm).
He says with a big smile, "I need to take my hat off for this!" There it is -- that infectious smile I have been hearing so much about. I now understand. Eric is ready to go.
Just a few minutes before I met Eric, I talk to fans and hear the same two words from everyone I talk to -- I mean everyone! INSPIRE and BELIEVE. Believe has become the new mantra at Rutgers University. The crowd holds up signs, LeGrand's jersey, the number 52, and the word BELIEVE. Since his injury, Eric has talked to groups of people, including both kids and adults with various disabilities.
Eric has touched thousands of lives. After more than a year later, Eric and Malcolm Brown are now friends. No hard feelings. Eric says it was a freak accident.
I ask Eric how he stays so positive? How does he stay on track when doubt and negative thoughts start to creep in? Eric says no matter how bad things get there is always someone who is worse off. He talks about how lucky he is to have such a great family and a state of the art wheelchair. He knows not everyone is lucky as he is.
When you are around Eric, you want to be a better person. Eric says “everyone has to deal with something, big or small, (and) you will get through it ... people need to stop sweating the small stuff." Coming from Eric, that statement has new meaning.
Eric wanted to play in the NFL and then pursue a broadcasting career. Because the NFL is off the table for now, he is following the second part of his dream: Announcing the games for Rutgers on radio and TV. Eric says he is now able to live this part a little earlier.
LeGrand will walk again. He knows it and has made huge strides that have shocked even the doctors. With Eric you believe anything is possible. When our conversation is over I look around the room. Everyone is smiling. Our spirits are lifted and there is hope in the air. He makes us believe in ourselves.
Thank you Eric!