Episode 34: Eric LeGrand
Karen opens Season 3 of You Matter! with former Rutgers football player, Eric LeGrand. After suffering a severe spinal cord injury in 2010, Eric became a motivational speaker and source of inspiration and hope for many. Eric speaks about his love of football, his injury and perseverance, and his foundation, Team LeGrand.
Eric LeGrand's Bio
In October 2010, Rutgers University football star, Eric LeGrand, sustained a spinal cord injury at his C3 and C4 vertebrae during a fourth quarter play at MetLife Stadium. While the initial prognosis was grim, Eric demonstrated his titan strength by shattering all expectations for his recovery and rehabilitation. However, recovery was not enough.
With close to six million Americans living with some form of paralysis, including 1.3 million spinal cord injuries, Eric harnessed the national spotlight he attracted from his injury to give back to the community and inspire those living with and impacted by paralysis to bELieve.
Team LeGrand was launched in September 2013 as a fundraising arm for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to carry forward the legacy of the late Christopher Reeve. Since its inception in 2013, Team LeGrand has raised over one million dollars for the Reeve Foundation.
Eric not only carries the torch of Team LeGrand’s mission, he continuously leads by example. During his time as a participant of the Reeve Foundation’s NeuroRecovery Network (NRN), he took part in a rigorous rehabilitation regime, including locomotor training, to re-teach his body how to walk and improve his quality of life. Since beginning therapy, he has regained movement in his shoulders and improvements to his overall health.
From becoming an author, sports analyst for ESPN, Sirius, the Big Ten Network and Rutgers radio, to a much sought after motivational speaker, Eric has given a voice to the paralysis community to mobilize support for critical initiatives, policies and cutting-edge research over the past five years. Additionally, he has extended his versatility by becoming a savvy entrepreneur who is involved in a number of different business initiatives.
Eric was recognized by Sports Illustrated with “The Best Moment of 2011” and the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPY Awards in 2012. Further, he was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2017, receiving the Warrior Award. In May 2014, Eric graduated from Rutgers University where he was an honored speaker at the commencement ceremony. When addressing his fellow graduates, he reminded them that “anything is possible,” and the importance of establishing a legacy of giving.
Since his injury, Eric has shown the world that obstacles can be transformed into opportunities, and he will continue to drive his mission forward until he delivers on Christopher Reeve’s dream of a world with empty wheelchairs. To Eric, it is not matter of if he walks again, but rather when.
Intro Voices 0:05
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices 0:31
This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman 0:36
Hi everyone, and welcome back to season three of You Matter. Thank you to all of our returning listeners and subscribers for your continued support. We are excited to welcome new listeners for season three, which will feature inspiring stories, interviews with change makers and discussions with service providers both in New York City and across the country. I am your host, Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Eric LeGrand, a former Rutgers University football player who on October 16, 2010, suffered a severe spinal injury during a game against Army. Eric is now a motivational speaker, and a source of inspiration and hope for so many. Eric has been honored with a plethora of awards that include the Unsung Hero Award, presented by the New Jersey Hall of Fame, the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 20th annual ESPYs, and he was selected the most influential person in New Jersey sports by the Star Ledger. On September 14, 2013, Rutgers athletics retired the number 52; the first number to be retired in the history of the Rutgers athletic program. Eric was a featured cover photo on Sports Illustrated, a national sports magazine. And in 2013, Eric created team LeGrand now part of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Eric, thank you so much for joining me today on You Matter.
Eric LeGrand 2:14
Thank you for having me.
Karen Ortman 2:16
So when did you discover your love of football?
It all started when I was five years old playing on the side of my house with some friends, you know, a game called kill the man with the ball...
Karen Ortman 2:28
Kill the man with the ball?
Eric LeGrand 2:32
…(laughing) yeah, exactly. People are running around with the ball and everyone has to go tackle. Now there was this one kid that was a lot older, about five years old than me and my two other friends. I would get past my two other friends and every now then I would duke out the kid that was about five years older than me. He was ten I was five and I would score the touchdown, you know, get to the other side of the fence. I got that adrenaline rush and ever since then I wanted to play the game of football.
Karen Ortman 3:00
Wow. Did you have Pop Warner?
Eric LeGrand 3:03
I did. I grew up in a town where it had a few Pop Warner teams. I played for the Port Reading Saints and started in their flag football for the first two years, then went all the way up into eighth grade.
Karen Ortman 3:15
And you played high school football, no doubt?
Eric LeGrand 3:19
Yes, I did. I went to Colonia High School and I played all four years of varsity football there which was pretty amazing and earned some scholarships to go to play at a Division One college.
Karen Ortman 3:30
And colonial High School is in North Jersey.
Eric LeGrand 3:37
I like to consider it Central Jersey.
If we're going to get into the argument of North/South, I am from Central Jersey.
Karen Ortman 3:41
Central okay, so -
Eric LeGrand 3:44
Central Jersey does exist, people. It does.
Karen Ortman 3:47
Okay, you're a believer in Central New Jersey. And North and South. Okay. So am I. (they laugh) So when did you decide that you wanted to play at Rutgers as opposed to any of the other Division One teams that were recruiting you? I'm sure there were many.
Unknown Speaker 4:04
Yeah, it was nice to go through the recruiting process. When everyone wants you and they're texting you, calling you and treating you like you're the king and all. It's all really cool. But Rutgers at the time I was getting recruited, they were on the hot streak and they were winning game after game in 2006. They were eleven in two, then in 2007 I believe they were ten in three or nine in four. That was another good year for them. I'm like, I want to build something here. Why would I go anywhere else when I have Rutgers right here in my backyard, I want to be a part of something special.
Karen Ortman 4:38
I totally understand that.
Eric LeGrand 4:40
I decided, I believe, in May of my junior year so 2007
Karen Ortman 4:48
And you decided Rutgers was it and you wanted to support New Jersey athletics. I think that's pretty cool.
Eric LeGrand 4:53
I did. It was twenty minutes from my house. I could come home whenever I wanted. My friends or family, everyone could come out and see my games which I used to get like 15 to 20 tickets somehow, even though they only would give us four I would find a way to get those tickets. Mostly from those Florida guys who would come up and no one would come, you know, their families couldn’t come watch them, so it was very enjoyable and a great decision.
Karen Ortman 5:15
That's great. And that's also great that you had that support, you know, and that people wanted to come and watch you. It's pretty cool.
Eric LeGrand 5:20
That is absolutely one of the reasons I wanted to stay.
Karen Ortman 5:22
Yeah. Did you have a favorite pro team growing up?
Eric LeGrand 5:27
I am a diehard, still to this day, Denver Broncos fan ever since around 1997/1998 when they won back to back Super Bowls.
I was gonna say - Yes, they did.
Yeah. In 1998-99, I was a little kid watching this guy Terrell Davis run the football and I played the same position as him. I want to watch him and do what he does, so I'm going to follow that team and here I am now. Jeez over 20/22 years later, still a diehard Denver Broncos fan.
Karen Ortman 5:56
So is that what you did? You would find players that you admired and sort of emulated them.
Eric LeGrand 6:03
Exactly, Terrell Davis was my favorite player growing up, as well as Ray Lewis. I used to play linebacker when I got to high school so I would really watch Ray Lewis and how he played with the Baltimore Ravens and the passion and the drive and the energy that he brought. And I was like, yeah, that's gonna be me.
Karen Ortman 6:22
While you were at Rutgers...can you speak to your accomplishments as a member of that program?
Eric LeGrand 6:27
Yeah, I was one of the main leaders on the team. I was the guy who gets everyone riled up after the games and people looked to me to lead by example, you know, one the strongest guys on the team. I held myself and everyone around me accountable to go out there and do what we needed to get done. We get a week out and people can look up to me as I said, as an example because I was just trying to do everything right and trying to listen to what the coaches were telling us even when we all didn't agree and things were tough and we had not everyone believing in this. You got to be that leader and step up and lead those guys. And I can say I accomplished that.
Karen Ortman 7:04
So you were one of those athletes that I'm sure many kids looked up to, much like you looked up to the athletes you spoke of in Denver.
Eric LeGrand 7:17
You always get a little bit of a judge about that when you come back home, after you've been away at school for a little bit and you see all those high school kids now that you were teammates with for a little bit, and now they're looking up to you. And then you go down to the Pop Warner level and forget it, you're like some type of God when you go down there. That was always cool.
Karen Ortman 7:39
October 16 2010, almost 20 years or 10 years ago, excuse me. Rutgers played against army. I'm sure that the team, your coaches, and everybody present for that game was pretty excited. Can you talk about the day of that game and what you recall?
Eric LeGrand 8:03
Yeah, absolutely. That day was obviously the scariest day, you know, the scariest moment of my life. In the beginning, it didn't start off like that because we were getting to play at MetLife Stadium which had just opened up for the Jets and the Giants. So you're gonna play in the NFL stadium that’s brand new, you get to be a part of that. I got 20 or 25 tickets to that game. And so my whole family, my friends - at least they got to see me play my last game - at least the ones that can have other football games ran out of the colleges, but um, yeah, it was a day that you know, changed my life in the fourth quarter after we just tied up the game. I'm running out to make a tackle. And, next thing you know, I'm laying on the ground paralyzed and not knowing where my life was going to take me at the time. If I was going to die out there on that field, then you know, the coaches telling you to pray, the trainers are asking, can you feel this? Can you feel that? The only thing on my mind was me taking my next breath of air because I wasn't able to do that.
Karen Ortman 9:00
That must have a very scary.
Eric LeGrand 9:02
Yeah, you can't move. You can't breathe. And your coaches are telling you to pray. Yeah, not the best moments, you know, you catch yourself in after being able to do so much with your body.
Karen Ortman 9:13
Right. Prior to making contact with your opponent. Can you recall what you were thinking? Just after kickoff as you were running down the field? Was there anything that stands out?
Eric LeGrand 9:26
Yep. I said to myself, you know what? I was facing a double team, which means two guys came to block me. I was able to get right through them and get them, stack them behind me. A 30/40 yard head start on the scout and to make a tackle, I said do you want to use your head to do it or use your shoulder. I said this is gonna be a big collision, let's leave your head out of it. Use your shoulder and down the field. Then my teammate got down to half a second before I did and he tripped a guy up. When the guy got tripped up his body twirled in the air. As I put my head down, thinking it wasn't going to be in the tackle at all, the crown of my head went running to the back of his shoulder blade. A football player knows, if you tackle with your head, you have to see what you hit. You got to keep your head up. I didn't think my head was going to be in the tackle at all. And unfortunately, the trip up changed the trajectory of the angle that I was going to take in next. You know, like I said, I was laying on the ground motionless.
Karen Ortman 10:16
The moment of impact, do you recall feeling pain?
Eric LeGrand 10:21
Nope, that’s the thing people ask me all the time, do I feel any pain and no, my body went instantly numb. And I remember I hit the ground and my feet went straight out like a board. I do remember them slowly falling down, my heels touching the turf. And then my teammates running over to me because I heard the crowd go “ooh”, so I knew it was a big hit. I tried to get up and my teammates were looking down at me at that time. They tell my eyes are bulging out of my head and they wave to the trainers to come out.
Karen Ortman 10:50
At that moment were you at all thinking paralysis?
Eric LeGrand 10:54
Not at all, I didn’t even know a paralysis was, I'm not gonna lie to you. We had a warning sign on the back of our helmets, we used to read it, you would read it before practice. Our coaches actually read it first practice of the year in high school every year.
What a warning are you talking about?
There's a warning sign on the back of a helmet that says, if you’re playing this game and wearing this helmet you may face concussions, paralysis, and all the different injuries because this is here to protect you but it's not the end all be all type thing. It gives you a warning sign of what can happen before you put on that helmet. And as you know, as a player, you read it, you listen to it, but until it happens you, you don't actually think about it, you know? And, yeah, when you think about that warning sign now it's like, wow, it's right there point blank, you know as a player you really don't pay much attention to it.
Karen Ortman 11:50
And now you know, well, that warning applies to me right now.
Eric LeGrand 11:53
Exactly. It definitely was an example of what could happen with that warning sign on the back and I think I made it just more relevant for a bunch of players around that time. So just put that in perspective what can happen.
Karen Ortman 12:05
So you're laying on the ground, immediately following impact. Do you recall the first thoughts that came to your mind?
Eric LeGrand 12:14
Yeah, I remember I was just like, praying to God. God, please give me a gasp of air, anything that can make me, you know, start to breathe again. And then my coach was like I said, come on and told me to pray. But at one point, I closed my eyes and I said, you know what, I can't move. I can't breathe. God take me at ease. And when nothing happened, I went back to panic. And again, at that time, they were putting a board under me and when they lifted me up, to put me on to the cart with the board, I caught a gasp of air. So I said, okay, I just knocked the wind out of myself because that's exactly what it felt like now - I know this feeling I got a full body stinger. I'll be okay. I've had a stinger on my shoulder before where it went numb and just came back. And I thought let me try to give a thumbs up to the crowd to let everyone know I was gonna be okay. It was just felt like a 1000 pound block landed on my hand.
Karen Ortman 13:00
So were you able to give a thumbs up?
Eric LeGrand 13:02
Nope. I wasn't able to move anything.
Karen Ortman 13:05
Do you know the name of the player with whom you collided?
Eric LeGrand 13:09
Absolutely. Malcolm Brown who served our country. Last I know he moved to Denver but he was serving over in South Korea. And he came out to a few of my birthday parties you know, a few years after my injury and I had a good relationship with Malcolm Brown.
Karen Ortman 13:25
Oh, nice. So you get placed on the board and you are taken to a local hospital.
Eric LeGrand 13:32
I got taken into Hackensack Medical. I don't remember much about it but I remember when I got put into ambulance, they put an oxygen mask on me. And I was ignorant to the fact of what the oxygen mask actually does for you. I'm thinking once they put this on, I'm able to take that deep breath (takes a deep breath) in and out and I went to inhale and I wasn't able to exhale and I kind of blacked out after that.
Karen Ortman 13:58
Oh, wow. Scary. So you arrived at the hospital, do you recall when you learned what your prognosis was?
Eric LeGrand 14:06
Not really, I remember seeing a bunch of flashing lights going down the hallway. When I first got there, then I was blacked out. I woke up and I was in a room filled with a bunch of doctors, and the nurses and they sound like they're speaking a different language. I blacked out, I woke up again and I was in that room by myself with a bunch of monitors and sounds going off. But then they did MRIs and CAT scans and whatnot. They told my mom what had happened to me, that I had fractured my C3C4 vertebrae and I'll be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of my life. I'll never walk again. I'll never eat solid foods. I never breathed on my own and they're hoping that I'm strong enough to make it to the surgery. They let me see my mom before I went into surgery, I kinda remember this and I kind of don't, but the adrenaline was definitely still flowing from the game. I said to my mom, I'll be back. When my mom heard that I'll be back, she said whoever sees him from here on out has to have a positive attitude because he's fighting already.
Karen Ortman 15:11
Eric LeGrand 15:13
Yes that’s mama. Even though we butt heads about seven times a day, she's a gem. What a woman.
Karen Ortman 15:24
I am sure she is, no doubt. So, you're lying in bed in a hospital and you hear doctors talking around you at some point. I'm sure at another point, you're by yourself and there's machines. What's going through your mind as you lay there by yourself? You know there's that internal dialogue I'm sure that's happening. Can you speak to those quiet moments when no one's around and what you were thinking?
Eric LeGrand 15:55
Yeah it actually took a few, like a week or so, because the first few days into it I was highly medicated so I don't really remember those moments alone. But those moments a week or two into my injury is when I really started to grasp on the things, I would called them the terrors of the night. I would be by myself. My mom would leave around 11 o'clock to go to the hotel next to the hospital. I would get some hours of sleep, and my head coach would come up and stay with me every day until about two o'clock in the morning and then he would leave and head home.
Karen Ortman 16:25
And your coach's name was?
Eric LeGrand 16:27
Greg Shiano. And he would go home and get some rest and he be back up by six o'clock to go to practice and stuff the next day. It was insane, but I remember those nights and I was terrified. I'll be laying in my room, I feel helpless. I can't move. I'm hooked up to all these monitors and sounds. I don't know really where I am or who's with me that I recognize and a lot of stuff preach in your head like: Am I going to die here? What is my life about to be like? How did this happen? Never why? I never said why, just, I was like how did this happen? How did I get to this position? Maybe my body and God are telling me I need a break. I just need a break. You know, so I reverted to you know, I just wanted to have a conversation with somebody I could trust. I started talking to the nurses, the nurses that were on staff were absolutely amazing. They would bring their charts to the room and they would sit there and talk to me at three, four or five o'clock in the morning.
They’re angels aren't they? Nurses.
Exactly. Knowing that they were doing that for me. You never know where a conversation may lead and it allowed me to trust them and allow me to respect them and they, holding to such a high standard. It made them become my friends and I can't thank them enough for that.
Karen Ortman 17:49
That's great. So can you describe the response from your teammates and your friends following this injury?
Eric LeGrand 17:57
They were devastated, absolutely devastated, but they never showed me it. I told you my mom said whoever goes in that room has to be positive. And everyone who came in there, they were so positive and uplifting and joking around and making me laugh and I'm making them laugh. They're just people I haven't seen in years. The amount of support that I had was just absolutely amazing. We took out a hold, and they called it the LeGrande waiting room, they had to create another waiting room in there, it was just…
Karen Ortman 18:25
So many people?
Eric LeGrand 18:26
Yes. So many people all throughout the day and the night just coming to see me and wish me well. It made me just so inspired that I said, you know what? I can't give up right now. Look at all these people are coming out here to visit me and see me. You have to take this as, this is my responsibility. They’re, looking to me for inspiration. I can't give up on them.
Karen Ortman 18:52
So every person that came to see you, listened to your mom and really didn't get upset or cry or show you just how emotional they were?
Not that I saw.
That's pretty amazing.
Eric LeGrand 19:09
It was pretty amazing. If they had been crying as they stepped out of the room, I didn't even notice because usually three or four people in the room at a time you know. There was so many so you wanted to keep it just a nice flow. Only thing that happened is I that one of my friends brought balloons to the ICU and I guess you're not allowed to have balloons in ICU. She came like some back way. I remember my mom was like, how did you get here? She goes we came in through the other way. And she goes, well there's no balloons allowed in the ICU. That's all I remember from that conference that besides reporters trying to get information but
other than that…
Karen Ortman 19:49
We're the balloons removed?
Eric LeGrand 19:52
Oh, yeah, the balloons were not allowed to be an ICU for some reason.
A for effort.
I have no idea why. Once you got your own room in the hospital, yes. But in the ICU unit no.
Karen Ortman 20:04
Gotcha. How long were you in the hospital before being transferred to rehab?
Eric LeGrand 20:09
3 and half weeks on October 16 to November 5, and then I had to go back out to the hospital, because I spiked a fever and an infection. And then I was back five days later, but um…
Karen Orttman 20:24
October 16 to November 5, and then after that back on November 10.
Karen Ortman 20:33
What resources during your rehab stay and even your hospital stay if it applies, what resources were of the greatest help to you? Whether they were mental health resources or any other resources that got you through that really challenging time back then?
They showed me that wasn't alone. There was so many people that had spinal cord injuries besides myself. They may not have been a football injury; they could have been a car accident. They could have been a fall. They could have been a gunshot wound from a stray bullet. It could have been so many different things - and in my world at Rutgers I was so involved and I was in my own bubble: football, class, practice, weight room, study hall every day. I didn't know the outside world. Being there show me - wow, there's actually things that are going on in this world that I had no idea about and it just opened my eyes to so much more and to see so many people fighting the same fight that I am. And a lot of the people not having the same support that I had made me just put myself and put things into perspective and say, hey, you got to fight because that person next to you in that other room has nobody coming to see him. Meanwhile, you have to turn down people. I got in the right state of mind there.
Karen Ortman 21:58
How do you stay so positive?
Eric LeGrand 22:02
I've always been a positive, upbeat person, this is who I am. What you see is what you get. I don't put on a front for anybody, you know. I said, when I got hurt, I'm 20 years old, God willing, I live a long happy life. I don't want to be miserable. I don't like being mad I don't like being upset, it's just I don't like to be in that state of mind. And I always had to put myself in happy situations, trying to help other people get there too, because we all have our battles that we go through. We all have our struggles. It's just finding our purpose in life, that thing that makes you tick, that makes you happy, that gives you that adrenaline rush to want to go out and do those things. The good stuff in life. That’s what we need more of.
Karen Ortman 22:46
What's your purpose?
Eric LeGrand 22:48
I believe I was put here to help find a cure for paralysis. Christopher Reeve was the most known spinal cord injury person before me and he passed away unfortunately, back in 2005. It’s kinda like a shadow came over spinal cord injuries. When I got hurt, it was so publicized that everyone may not know Eric LeGrand but they know the Rutgers football player. They know the story they saw at some time in their life. I feel like this is my mission now to finish out his dream a world with empty wheelchairs and finding a cure for paralysis. But it just doesn't stop there. It's helping other people, able bodied, who kind of go through some struggles - some battle some conflict in their life - and give them the motivation and perspective of - if they see the way I'm living my life and I'm getting through and I'm being happy every day, why can’t I do the same thing?
Karen Ortman 23:37
Sure. So tell us about Team LeGrand. What is it and what purpose does it serve?
Eric LeGrand 23:44
Team LeGrand is a fundraising branch of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. It was started in the fall of 2013. And we have events. I love to branch out my events because I always say spinal cord injuries, they don't do discriminate; Black, White, Latino, Asian, it could happen to anybody at any given time. It actually happens every 45 minutes in the world. And I want I wanted people to see this. I want to bring the community together. I like having my events like my flag football tournament. I have a 5K walk, run and roll every year. I have a Zumba event, a kickboxing event, a corn hole tournament, and I'm about to implement some yoga into it. I love to branch out, it gives people a reason for a good cause to come out. It also educates them on why they're doing and giving them a sense of purpose. Like, I'm doing this for Eric or I may be doing it for Susie, who's my cousin, I might be doing it for Brad, who's my friend, I might be doing it for Jamal, who's my brother. And those people are purposed to want to come out and do something for cause and get people that are in wheelchairs, who can't do the same thing, at the same time as somebody else. Give them a hope and purpose knowing that other people are out there fighting for them. That's why Team LeGrand does what it does.
Karen Ortman 25:07
How do you feel about the sport of football today, in light of your injury, in light of a lot of the negative press that football has gotten particularly with youth football and the propensity for injury, concussions, clearly your injury, which is was is extreme? How do you feel about the sport?
Eric LeGrand 25:36
I absolutely love it. I am a football player. I know I was injured playing football. But the principles that the game of football have taught me are priceless. They go on through life; being able to learn how to work together as a team, being able to come together as a culture it doesn't matter if you're Black, White, Latino it doesn't matter. You're all fighting for a same goal being able to go through a self-evaluation period, fight through adversity, fight through plans that don't go your way. You learn all these principles and this sets you up for life. That's why I love the game of football so much, that and just the adrenaline rush that you get to go on Saturdays and Sundays. And watching that is just so fun because people come from all different walks of life and playing the game of football. You see everyone coming together, for one goal having on one mindset and that's teamwork. It doesn't matter what you look like, doesn't matter where you're from. That moment when you get to strap up down with your brothers, you get to go out there together and fight for one mission.
Karen Ortman 26:39
Eric LeGrand 26:41
Oh, no regrets ever. Like I said, a lot of stuff I've been able to learn from the game is priceless. I take that in my life now. Obviously, you know, of course I don't like to be paralyzed. I don't wish I was paralyzed but everything happens for a reason and this is my reasoning and my purpose in life, and you know, this has also always been a part of the game of football. So I'm very very proud of that.
Karen Ortman 27:03
If you had a son, would you let your son play football?
Eric LeGrand 27:05
I definitely would if he wanted to go out there and give it 100%, I would definitely want him to go play football because of the principles as I just told you what I learned playing the game of football and that’s a lot of sports too, not just football. But if he wanted to play that, I would say absolutely. It teaches you toughness, it teaches you grit, it teaches you respect and teaches you teamwork. It teaches you how to love. All those messages are important. And as a parent, you know, you can harp on it and harp on it and harp on it you know. I don't have any kids but I do have nephews and nieces. Sometimes kids get tired of hearing it from their parents only. So having a coach to be able to put those principles into your head. I know what coaches have meant to my life, it was more growing up in a single household. I had my dad who was in my life and lived in the town next to me but my mom raised me. Coaches stepped up and played a huge role as that that male aspect of my life.
Karen Ortman 28:03
So I know that the 10-year anniversary of your injuries is approaching this October actually, what special events, I’m sure there are some, that do you have planned?
Eric LeGrand 28:17
Well, COVID-19 but a huge damper on a lot I have to say that. I had a lot of things. I wanted to try to raise $1 million this year for 10 year of fighting paralysis strong, you know, COVID-19 shut so much down, especially since with me everything involves people and being around people and I wanted to do stuff with people. So I'm very proud to say we were able to put together, in a six-week span, a virtual 5k that we opened up a challenge at 52 for 52. My number was 52 in college, so we wanted all 50 states and two US territories to participate by getting one participant in every part of the country and see if we could do that. We opened up that challenge and a week and a half later, the whole states was covered. We had one participant at least everywhere.
We also got 10 countries involved, made it virtual this year, we raised almost $190,000, the most we've ever raised before that, one time was $130,000. we raised 190,000. And we got people in our community together in a time of need, and I am so, so proud of that.
Karen Ortman 29:27
You ought to be that's wonderful.
Eric LeGrand 29:30
It was amazing.
Karen Ortman 29:32
Tell me about your relationship with Malcolm Brown.
Eric LeGrand 29:37
It was good. You know, one of the things I always tell about Malcolm Brown I'll never forget. In May of 2014, I was about to give the commencement speech the year I was graduating to my fellow graduates from Rutgers University and the night before I was going to give my speech I get a text from Malcolm all the way out in South Korea. It was him telling me, hey Eric, congratulations on graduating, I'm so proud of you and I want you to know that I look up to you for inspiration. As I get ready to train my cadets as we go into serving and protecting our country, I'm always thinking about you and I'm always praying for you. I tell these guys your story and tell them if they can't do it to look to you for inspiration and get us over that hump. When I got that message from him. That sends goose bumps down my spine - like wow, this guy's in South Korea serving and protecting our country he's thinking about me and training his cadets using my words and my message for that. That’s special.
Karen Ortman 30:34
That is very special. When you search your name on the internet, is it painful for you to read the headlines that followed your injury? Rutgers football player in intensive care after injuring spine? Erica LeGrand has no movement below his neck. Doctors perform emergency surgery overnight. How do you feel when you search your name and sort of relive this.
Eric LeGrand 31:08
I don't have any pain at all. The facts are the facts. This is reality. This is what happened to me. I tried to think about what happened. What did I do next? What were the headlines after that? And I try to tell people in life, you may have had that headline in your life and it may not be publicized like mine was but what is the story next? What's the next headline they’re gonna read?
I Love that. It’s so inspirational.
Were you able to do this? Or were you able to do that? And I bet you now when you search my name you may find that injury but you're going to find a whole lot of articles after; what I was able to do after that, that new headline, that new storyline about Erica LeGrand, and that's what people need to see. This may have happened in your life. The facts are facts. That's reality, accept it - but what did you do after to control it.
Karen Ortman 31:58
Love it. I know you've shared your story thousands of times in interviews just like this one in a multitude of venues. What do you want people to know about Eric LeGrand that may not have been shared before? If anything?
Eric LeGrand 32:14
I want people to know that I try my best each and every day to be the best version of myself. Not just for the FS motivational speaking but as being a friend, as a son, you know family member, cousin, business owner, a creator of a foundation. Each and every day, I try to give my best, whatever I'm focused on at that time. And you know that you can count on me. You can believe in me. And if you call out for something, I'll be there to answer you. I'm no bigger than any other person. Yes, I may have a following, you know, people who support me they look at me as a celebrity this and that. But I am a regular kid from the suburbs of Avenel, New Jersey and I am just I'm just like you. I was very blessed enough with a with ability to play the game of football and bring me to high levels of it but at the end of the day I'm a human being that's just trying to make a difference for somebody else.
Karen Ortman 33:19
I love it. Is there anything else that you would like to add that I haven't asked you?
Eric LeGrand 33:24
I would just ask people to challenge yourselves. Make yourself uncomfortable. That's where growth is made. You have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Look yourself in a mirror each and every day and say I live my life by the definition of success. And as a peace of mind you get known you did everything you could to be the best you can be. I'll say one more time for you guys. It's the peace of mind you get knowing you did everything you could to be the best you can be, and if you can answer that question each and every day, and sometimes that answer may be no - that's okay - when you wake up the next morning, God willing, you look in that mirror again. This gives you another opportunity to go fight and try to be the best version of yourself. Now when you start adding up those days watch all the blessings and amazing things that are happening in your life.
Karen Ortman 34:13
I love it. Thank you so much. Thanks, Eric.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you for joining me today on you matter. And to all of our listeners. Thank you for joining us for today's episode. If any information presented is triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU’s Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like and subscribe to you matter on Apple podcasts, Google Play, tune in or Spotify.