Eric LeGrand, the former Rutgers University Scarlet Knights tackle who was paralyzed in a football game two years ago, was honored last night with the Jim Valvan Perseverance Award at what is considered the world of sport’s most important awards show, the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles.
The ESPYS (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) is now in its 20th year and has been compared to the motion picture industry’s version of the Academy Awards. Many star athletes and celebrities were on hand to witness the evening’s winners in 33 categories including Male and Female Athlete of the Year, Best Game, Best Coach and Best Moment.
The Jim Valvano Award is named after the head coach of the North Carolina State University team that won the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1983. Jim Valvano was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1992 and the following year at the inaugural ESPY Awards, he was honored with the Ashe Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. In his acceptance speech, he gave what is considered one of most famous speeches in sports history, which included his legendary motto “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Jimmy V., as fans and friends knew him, died just eight weeks later but his legacy lives on through the V Foundation for Cancer Research, founded by ESPN and Jim Valvano that same year. The Jimmy V Award is given to a member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.
In October 2010 in a football game against the Army’s Black Knights, Eric LeGrand suffered a severe spinal cord injury when he made an attempt to tackle Army’s Malcom Brown during a kickoff return. In a split instant, the behemoth of a football player at 6’2” and 275 lbs., LeGrand lay on the field paralyzed with two fractured vertebrae. Doctors initially said that he only had a 5% chance of regaining any neurological function. They also said he would never again breathe without a ventilator. Shortly after he was hospitalized, a number of Army football players visited him, including Malcom Brown, who became LeGrand’s and has since appeared together in other Army football games.
Since the initial prognosis of his injury, Brown no longer needs to breathe through a ventilator and can stand upright for brief periods of time. He has vowed to walk again and his courage has been recognized widely in the sports world, including being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL as a honorary teammate and his wheel bound appearance back on the Rutgers University football field during a snowstorm, was voted the by fans in an online poll from Sports Illustrated as the Best Moment of 2011, which made the front cover of the magazine in late December.
LeGrand has become a source of inspiration and today is considered one of the most prominent spokesmen in the spinal cord industry. He also works as an analyst for Rutgers football radio broadcasts and is scheduled to have his own weekly show with the Scarlet Knights football head coach Kyle Flood. In receiving the award, Eric LeGrand appeared on the stage in his wheelchair. He spoke to the sold out audience alongside award presenter Rob Lowe and during his five+ minute acceptance speech, had this to say:
“I’m going out there to inspire other people, to live to the best of your abilities, don’t take anything for granted, because in one second, it can be all thrown away. Like Jimmy V always said, don’t give up, don’t ever give up and you can best believe I will never give up and I will rise from this chair.”
Rutgers University has set up a fund to support LeGrand and his Family called the Believe Fund. And West Point has extended an open invitation for LeGrand to speak to the Army Knights football team and other cadets. Because the Army is accustomed to taking care of its wounded warriors, it’s a certainty that they’ll be helping another warrior, even if he is a civilian.