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Black History NJ: Eric LeGrand

In October 2010, Rutgers University football fans stood silent and in shock as one of their star players lay at the 25 yard line. After tackling a kickoff returner, Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a spinal cord injury, paralyzing him from the neck down and ending his football career. Despite the injury, LeGrand is now an inspiration to players, the community and anyone who listens to him speak.

Eric LeGrand was born on September 4, 1990 in Avenel, Woodbridge Township. He began playing recreational football at 10 years old. By high school, his exceptional talent made him a standout player at Colonia High School in Middlesex County. Then, as a college freshman, he made the football team at Rutgers University in 2008. However, it wasn’t until his junior year (2010) that LeGrand became a starting player.

Eric LeGrand: A True Inspiration

While playing against the Army Black Knights at MetLife Stadium, LeGrand’s life and career took a tragic turn. Fracturing his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae, he underwent nine hours of emergency surgery to stabilize his spine. Shortly after, doctors thought he would never breathe on his own again. But on Thanksgiving of 2010, LeGrand asked the doctors to take him off his ventilator; by the start of 2011, he could breathe on his own without it. Now, using a motorized wheelchair to guide him, he gives talks that impact thousands of lives.

As a public speaker, LeGrand uses his experiences and positive outlook to inspire those around him. The results of his story and dedication can partially be seen in his accomplishments; he is the 2012 ESPY Awards recipient of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. In 2013, he published his first book, BELIEVE: My Faith and the Tackle that Changed My Life.

From 2016 to 2017, LeGrand hosted six episodes of a Fox Sports webseries, Mission Possible. The series showcases people with disabilities striving to achieve their goals.

LeGrand attends physical therapy multiple times a week to keep his body healthy. In response to the community’s support, he pays it forward through his charity; Team LeGrand of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. In operation since 2013, proceeds from the charity fund research into a cure for paralysis. The foundation also helps improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.

With every word and smile Eric LeGrand shares, he inspires hope. He encourages those in recovery from debilitating injuries to find the strength to move forward. In addition, he advocates for those enduring hardship to never stop working toward their goals. In fact, the number one message LeGrand wishes to spread is “believe.”

Click here for more Black History NJ stories featuring other amazing New Jersey natives.

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