I’ve always been the type of person who looks to make the most out of their predicament or situation. No matter how tough times get, I always find a way to persevere and get back on the horse.
But how do you persevere when you’ve lost your smile?
When you lose your passion, your driving force that pushes you to become a better individual, you feel hopeless. You start looking for answers. Answers from close friends, family members, maybe even God.
In my case, I hit rock bottom.
I have played football for 17 years and have used the lessons and fundamentals of developing a strong work-ethic, self and team organization and being a valuable asset to the team in the real world. Playing the game of football taught me to be passionate about something I deeply care about.
Last August, I had the one true consistent part of my life ripped away from me. A spinal cord injury that left me temporarily paralyzed in both arms and legs due to the actions of a selfish individual and put my career, and more importantly, my life in jeopardy.
Tears were rolling down my cheeks with teammates, dear friends and family all locking on a death grip to my hands that had little to no feeling.
The first thing that popped into my mind was, “when can I play football again?”
I was more worried about when I could go back to playing football than walking on my own two feet out of the hospital.
I chose to bounce back.
Following two weeks of rest, I made the decision to continue playing, with the goal of getting back to my starting spot as center as soon as possible. However, as much as I thought I was strong enough to battle back, I was finding I wasn’t. Fighting through the pain as the season progressed, the damage was taking a heavy toll.
I had to make the difficult decision of pulling myself out of the season in hopes of playing in my senior year. My last chance.
Rehabilitation and physical therapy paired with vigorous lifting sessions and a determined will to overcome adversity made up my off-season. On top of working 40-hour weeks, I found a way to leave everything in the gym to give myself the best opportunity to play again.
Unfortunately, I had to face the harsh reality that sometimes, no matter how passionate you are, no matter how hard you worked or how much you feel you earned something, things don’t always go your way.
I went from a former starter to a bench player who would help the younger guys understand the playbook and their responsibilities. It was difficult to accept, but I had to embrace the role of a team player and do what was in the best interests of my teammates.
I would be lying if I said I never thought about quitting.
But by quitting, that decision would stay with me for the rest of my life, and I couldn’t reverse it. I’ve never quit anything in my life, and I never will. If I commit to something, I will put my all into it.
As frustrating as watching my junior and senior years of football go by, I can’t help but think of the memories I’ve made with people I look at as family, not teammates.
Guys like Will Mossop, Mitch Caron, Nick Fecteau, Chris Rice, Joe Saraiva, Dustin Rock and Tucker Gaudette made a clear and evident effort to show they cared about me these past two years and have made this experience memorable.
Being told that I would have the opportunity to physically play in one last game on my “Senior Day” in front of the Castleton faithful and over 20 of my family members was a moment I’ll never forget. From the first snap where I blocked a defensive end to the last snap where I was on the field for the first victory kneel down of the season, I couldn’t help but be emotional in knowing that my hard work paid off.
As soon as I saw my dad, I broke down in his arms. Our dream together, which started when I was four years old had finally come to an end, and in what great fashion.
So, for those who took on the task of reading this column, please know that if you’re dealing with hard times and feel as if you can’t get out of the rut, you’re not alone.
My advice is to lean on the people and things in your life that drive you to be better and generate positivity. Use your negative experiences as fuel to overcome the odds and bounce back better than before.
Most importantly, realize that you are worth more than you think you are at your worst. Life isn’t meant to be easy. It’s how you respond that defines your true character.