Facebook/Eric LeGrand

Being Eric LeGrand: 5 Lessons I Have Learned Since Being Paralyzed

My life ended and started on October 16, 2010.

As a college football player, you are trained to take big hits, absorb the impact and fight through the pain.

But what if the hit is so hard, you can’t get up?

From the moment I was injured, my identity as a football standout disappeared.

However, in its place was the same spirit of an athlete, and a fierce resilience I was taught by coaches and teammates.

I was reborn nearly five years ago.

After being paralyzed, I became a stronger, more determined Eric LeGrand.

I sustained a spinal cord injury at the most crucial level, and was given less than a 5 percent chance of regaining neurological function.

I was on a ventilator.

Doctors told my mom I would never move my shoulders, arms, hands, hips, knees and legs. The word “never” was repeated over and over.

This is a word I now try to avoid.

It was like I was the underdog team: the team everyone had bet against.

But I had been here before. If there was one thing football had taught me, it was to never underestimate a comeback.

While the road to recovery has been full of obstacles, there have been many victories as well.

I was weaned off the ventilator, and even recovered movement in my neck, shoulders and trunk.

While there is more to conquer, I fight my path forward.

October 16, 2015 will be a bittersweet day, as I mark the fifth anniversary of my spinal cord injury.

By all accounts, this day is a milestone. I have achieved far more than anyone thought was possible.

However, it is also a day of reflection, to honor what I have learned along the way.

Here are five lessons I have learned since being paralyzed:

1. Attitude is half the battle.

My attitude has kept me focused from the moment I was injured, and in every physical therapy session.

Rehab is grueling, and some days it takes all my strength to show up. But as soon as the therapists move my body, the inner athlete comes out.

I am determined to make the most of every exercise. It's the reason I've defied many of the “never” situations.

People often cite my positive outlook as something remarkable.

What reason do I have to be anything but positive?

I am alive, healthy and have incredible people around me. Attitude is everything when you need to put things in perspective.

Even with a spinal cord injury, I have a lot to be thankful for.

2. Don’t look back, and always ignore the “what if.”

Many people ask me, “What would you be doing if you were not paralyzed?”

While I don't take any offense to the question, it is a poor use of time to predict “what if.”

Of course, I would love to be able to move my body and be independent.

I wish my mother didn't have to care for her adult son 24/7, or have her entire life revolve around me.

However, the reason I don't focus on “what if” is because I have been afforded an incredible opportunity to raise awareness for spinal cord injury and educate others on life with paralysis.

When people think of a spinal cord injury, they understand I can't walk.

But there are many other complications, including the inability to control bowel, bladder and sexual function, or regulate my body temperature.

I am also at a heightened risk for bladder infections, sepsis, autonomic dysreflexia and pressure sores.

Many people living with spinal cord injury find themselves in and out of hospitals, trying to manage these complications.

I have a platform to educate, as well as inspire others to persevere, despite challenges and obstacles.

Imagining what my life could have been like is not only unproductive, but it also minimizes the impact I have achieved over the past five years.

All I can do is stay focused on the future and not waste time replaying the past.

3. Celebrate small victories.

I am a quadriplegic, which means I can't control my arms, hands and lower body.

My ultimate goal will always be to walk again, but there are a number of other milestones that deserve to be celebrated.

When I post videos that show a slight increase in shoulder movement, it's a big deal.

Each movement and milestone is a leap forward, and defies what doctors thought would be possible.

Not all achievements relate to physical recovery.

From graduating college to embarking on my career in broadcasting, these are all important moments that should not be overshadowed by paralysis.

Recovery is a slow and daunting process, but I know these small victories will eventually amount to a huge win.

It's far more fun to recognize the wins along the way.

4. Embrace your support system and be thankful.

Paralysis has a domino effect on everyone around you, and I wish I could have protected my family from the full impact.

However, I am luckier than most to have an incredible team of supporters by my side for five years.

For many, the support tends to dissolve after the first year of injury.

At first, my mother and I struggled to navigate our “new normal,” and we had hundreds of individuals reach out to offer their advice and guidance.

It was hard to accept my life was never going to be the same.

But slowly, I began to listen and learn about spinal cord injury.

It is not a community any of us would elect to join, but whenever I hear about someone who has been recently injured, I'm first to reach out and offer support.

The biggest lesson I have learned is to say “thank you.”

When you're not able to care for yourself and instead rely on a team of supporters, telling people how much they mean to you is critical.

5. Pay it forward.

I am lucky.

That's probably what I hope most people realize about me and my story.

I am fortunate to have such a loving family, generous community and loyal friends.

I also have a responsibility.

When I was injured during a nationally televised football game, I was offered the opportunity to tell my story and use my recovery as a platform to educate people on spinal cord injury.

I am one of 6 million Americans living with paralysis, including 1.3 million with spinal cord injury.

My mission is to get everyone up and walking.

That is why I created Team LeGrand of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, to raise awareness for the paralysis community, and drive support for cutting-edge research.

Christopher Reeve had a dream.

He dreamed of a world of empty wheelchairs, and I am determined to make Superman’s dream a reality — in a matter of years, not decades.

That is why I want to use the fifth anniversary of my injury to further fuel research initiatives, and provide funding to transform scientific breakthroughs into treatments.

On October 16, 2015, I will launch #FiveYearsForward as a way to honor the distance I have traveled, as well as to look to the future and what can be accomplished if we band together around the Team LeGrand mission.

I have many dreams for the next five years.

Mostly, I hope to be closer to getting out of this chair and celebrating additional breakthroughs.

There is so much potential right now in spinal cord research, and the only thing holding back innovation is the funds.

I will never dwell on the past, and I am very excited to see what the future holds.

Maybe in five years’ time, I will be writing about my first steps, or how I am back on the football field.

Either way, it is a journey I will continue to share, and I hope others will join.

Text “LeGrand” to 20222 and donate $5 in honor of #FiveYearsForward or visit TeamLeGrand.org to join the team. Together, we can make a difference.