It was the third day of school of my sophomore year in 1993. I played football for the Lumberton High Pirates. It was our very first game of the season, and we were playing the South View Tigers on our home field. I lined up on the right side of the field as we prepared for the kick-off to the second half of the game. As the placekicker made contact with the ball, I ran down the field while remaining mindful to stay in my lane and avoid other players. As I approached my opponent’s forty-yard line, I saw the Tiger’s punt returner heading towards my side of the field. In preparation of tackling the other team’s player, I made a slight left turn in his direction. Traveling at top speed, I broke into tackling form and made contact with the Southview Tiger’s kick returner. I remember the hit as a fierce one. I felt the runner go down. I too went down, but after hitting the ground, something didn’t seem right. Upon contact, it felt as if all of my energy and power jumped out of my body. I couldn’t feel myself. I tried to get up. I knew what it felt like to get up. My brain was repeatedly going through the process of getting up, but my body was unresponsive. It became clear I was unable to move and would not be getting up on my own. I immediately knew I was in bad shape. I kept trying to get up. I heard people shouting, “Get up Rodney, get up.” I knew I suffered some sort of spinal injury.
My teammate and best friend ran to me after the hit and said forcefully, “Good hit man. That’s what I’m talking about, good hit.” Then he realized something was wrong. He reached down to help. “Are you alright man? C’mon lets go, get up.” But before he had a chance to grab my hands, the coaches and trainer stopped him and yelled, “Don’t touch him, don’t move him. He could be hurt badly.” Reality began to set in and tears began to roll down my face. I came to grip with the fact that the only thing I had control over was my head.
I felt so unfortunate and sorry. Sorry I had gotten hurt. Sorry I had let my team down. Sorry I couldn’t get up. As I laid on the field looking through my facemask into their faces, the coaches and trainers were panicked. I kept yelling out, “I can’t move, I can’t feel my legs. Somebody help me. Help me get up.” The coaches attempted to calm me down. By then my mom had made her way to the field. As she knelt beside me she yelled, “Get up Rodney, get up.” With tears running down her face, I responded, “I’m trying to get up. I’m trying. I can’t.” As she motioned to grab me and help me get up, the coaches pulled her away. Yelling frantically and fighting to get loose from them she yelled, “That’s my son, that’s my baby.” Gathering all the strength she could, she returned to my side only to find me even more frantic. With tears rolling down my face I cried out, “help me! I can’t move! I can’t feel my legs. I can’t move my body.” Thoughts of never being able to walk began to creep into my mind and increase with every passing moment. I was so afraid…
In that moment, I didn’t have many options. All I could do was lay on that field, wondering if my life was over. But as the seconds turned into minutes, the minutes into hours, and the hours into days, I realized that I did in fact have options. And as a matter of fact, I decided the only options I had was to either accept my condition as the way it is, or begin the difficult road of fighting back. I knew the odds were not in my favor. It was clear there was a high chance I would never walk again. Doctors told me most people who are paralyzed remain paralyzed for the rest of their lives. I asked the doctor several times if I would walk again. The doctors said that it was very unlikely as there is no cure or medical procedure to correct paralysis. My medical physicians attempted to offer hope by providing testimonies from people who were paralyzed, but still managed to live productive and happy lives from the confines of a wheelchair. Mentally, I could not grasp that concept. I could not see myself in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. The thought of that made me sick to my stomach. It brought about pain and discontent. This was not what I envisioned my life to be. Something had to change. I refused to accept reality for the rest of my life. I flipped a switch in my mind that made me determined to overcome paralysis and learn how to walk again. Each day I worked towards regaining my strength to stand and walk on my own by executing various strategies and workout routines geared at strengthening my body. It didn’t matter how long it was going to take or how hard it was going to be, I was willing to try as hard as I could for however long it took.
Now, as a result of determination, faith, and persistent effort, I no longer use a wheelchair. I am now able to effectively execute my duties in my job and productively participate as a member of the community without the use of a wheelchair. During my pursuit to overcome paralysis and the confines of a wheelchair, I also continued my education. In 2000, I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from St. Andrews Presbyterian College followed by a Professional Master’s of Business Administration in 2003 from Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. Today, I’m assigned to the NAVAL Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Program Office (PMA-290) as a procuring contracting officer where I’m responsible for executing and managing the performance of contracting actions. March 2015 marks fourteen years of service to the Department of Defense (Navy).
My focus is to continually serve as an example that will inspire, motivate, and encourage others to never give up and reach for their hopes and dreams regardless of their current limitations, challenges, or disability. We all have our own set of obstacles and setbacks in life. Mine were pretty significant. However in that moment, I made a choice…And since making that choice, I never once looked back. Sure, I had my moments of weakness and often wanted to give up and throw in the towel. But the moments passed and I never once waivered in my belief that I could leave behind the wheelchair. For me, that wheelchair represented all that restricted my life. That chair with wheels prevented me from moving forward and putting one foot in front of the other. It simply was not an option.
In each of our lives, we all have a proverbial wheelchair. Something that is limiting and presents what seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Wheelchairs are just part of life. But how we handle those setbacks and obstacles is truly what defines our lives. My journey is an ongoing one. But I am confident that if you share it with me and look closely, you will learn lessons and tools that I was lucky enough to gain along the way. These principles will help you not only manage adversity, but also overcome it. To this day, I still need assistance with walking, but I am grateful and thankful I do not need the assistance of a wheelchair. I am vertical every day and I am graciously excited to be able to walk on my own and share my story with you.
In my book, “GET UP! I can’t, I will, I did”, you will learn more about my story. But most importantly, I am confident you will find yourself inspired and motivated to never let adversity stifle your personal growth. Remember-it is a part of life. However, how you respond to the adversity is what defines your journey. There were few that believed I’d ever walk again. But I knew I would. Personally, that confidence and trust in my vision for the future is what kept me going. It helped me get up when I was told I never would. In life, we all suffer the hits. I was given a big one. So big it knocked me off my feet. But when you get hit, how do you respond?