Eric LeGrand: Best of the Best

Steve Adubato admires the powerful and dramatic example set by genuine Jersey hero Eric LeGrand.

As tough a road as Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand has traveled since he was paralyzed in a game against Army last October, he has never lost his optimism and fighting spirit. In April at a spring game at Rutgers, LeGrand was surrounded by teammates Scott Vallone (94), Keith Stroud (15), Phil Lewis (80), Desmond Wynn (70) and Tim Wright (5).
AP Photo/Mel Evans.

New Jersey is known for a lot of things, not all of them good. High taxes, political scandals and wacky reality-show stars all have become synonymous with our state. (Who can forget that scene of Snooki on Jersey Shore, face down in the sand, drunk out of her mind in Seaside Heights?)

But we know the real New Jersey is filled with genuine heroes, people who inspire the rest of us by the way they face life’s often-unimaginable challenges. One wishes there were a reality show about some of these people; no doubt, such a TV series would help others in a big way.

One of the most dramatic and powerful examples of a real Jersey hero is Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers football standout whose life was dramatically changed on October 16, 2010, at New Meadowlands Stadium. That day, the 275-pound defensive tackle, a junior, suffered a severe spinal injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. In an instant, he went from a strapping collegiate athlete to a seemingly helpless victim, unable to move. The future looked terribly bleak. Doctors told him he might never breathe without a ventilator. The idea of walking on his own was something he probably shouldn’t have even thought about.
But immediately, the Rutgers community—and the entire Garden State—rallied behind LeGrand.

Supporters started raising money for him and his family, and signs incorporating the word “bELieve” started appearing all over the state. There was the Eric LeGrand Believe Fund and the Walk to Believe 5K fund-raiser. It wasn’t just a Rutgers thing, it was a New Jersey thing.

While no one can know LeGrand’s innermost thoughts, from the moment this horrific freak accident took place, the Avenel native acted and spoke in ways that only a courageous, inspiring hero would. Here are just a few of the things that LeGrand has said publicly that make him so special:

“I don’t talk to doctors. Initially, they told me I would never get off a ventilator. Five weeks later, I was breathing on my own.”

“I enjoy telling my story…. Who knows how many chapters there are, but it’s not over yet.”

“I do miss football. I see my friends out there…. But I know there’s a path for me to follow, it’s just not that way. I’ll always be involved in sports, which is why I want to be a sportscaster. ESPN is on my screen basically 24/7.”

“There is a reason why this happened. I was picked for this to happen to…. I believe God put me through this because he knows I can fight through this.”

In January, it was reported that LeGrand had surprised his doctors, gaining movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body. So there it is. Eric LeGrand. I say he is a hero, don’t you?

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They put their lives on the line in covert military operations, like the Navy Seals who pursued and killed Osama bin Laden. They land planes safely on the Hudson River with amazing skill and calm, like Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. And they inspire us with their personal courage, like Eric LeGrand.

We need to celebrate the Eric LeGrands of this world for many reasons. One of them is that people like LeGrand are the heart and soul of New Jersey. He’s the best we have to offer. Every once in a while, we have to remind ourselves and the rest of the world of that.

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