“Christopher Reeve, he always said his goal was to have a world with empty wheelchairs. Since he’s passed on, I feel like it’s my time to do my due diligence and take over. Do whatever I can to raise awareness, raise funds, so we can have a world with empty wheelchairs.” - Eric LeGrand
I had the pleasure of interviewing the always inspiring Eric LeGrand recently in his suite at the New York Red Bulls game, where he was promoting his upcoming Wings for Life event. As you can see in the picture above, Eric was able to take part in the opening coin toss for the April 15th game against D.C. United. Spoiler alert: They won! I must be a better good luck charm at soccer games than for Rutgers Football. Anyway, back on track. Given Eric’s involvement with the Christopher Reeve Foundation, he has partnered up with Wings for Life to help promote their life-saving work and their World Run on May 7, 2017.
For those not familiar with this amazing organization, Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation. Eric has been involved with the foundation for “3-4 years,” and each year they have a “world run every year across 36 locations across the world. They have people running at the same time, whether it's 5 PM in the afternoon or 5 am in the morning. It’s all for spinal cord research. It’s running for people that can’t. You know, it's a cause that’s near and dear to my heart, so I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
What makes this run particularly fun and unique is that it is accessible to all people. As Eric explained to me, there is what they call a pacer car. About 30 minutes into the race, the car enters the course at about 8 or 9 miles per hour. Every hour, it speeds up, “so you know eventually it catches up to you.”
When speaking about spinal cord injuries, Eric reminded me that they “don’t discriminate from anybody.” Which is especially profound when you remember the peak physical shape Eric was in as a D1 athlete at the time of his injury. Since that fateful day 6 1⁄2 years ago, Eric believes there have been amazing advances in the technology used to treat spinal cord injuries. Asking him a bit more about these treatments, he believes the biggest advance has been the epidural stimulation to an injured spinal cord. Thanks to this treatment, Eric has been able to stand up with a walker, regain balance, bladder control, sensation, etc.
“The only thing holding us back from more clinical trials and advances is funding. I truly believe in my lifetime there will be a cure for spinal cord injuries.”
Speaking of raising more funds, in just 3 1⁄2 years Eric’s own Team LeGrand foundation has raised $750k in 3 1⁄2 years, with the goal of hitting $1MM dollars this year through events like the upcoming Walk to Believe.
I couldn’t leave a conversation with a former Rutgers Football star without talking a bit about my beloved Scarlet Knights, and Eric was more than happy to indulge me. A few highlights:
- He believes Ash is the right guy for the job. While the results haven’t necessarily shown on the scoreboard, he believes Ash is embedding his own philosophy into the program and he needs to continue to get the right players to buy in. Everyone got used to Schiano, and “everything was about the Chop,” but he believes the improvements are happening and it just might take a few years. He actually compared Ash to Schiano in that he is very in tune with those key details and minute, but important, adjustments. He tells Rutgers fans to give it time, and all the work happening behind the scenes will “start showing.”
- He is very excited about this recruiting class. Particularly 4-star recruit, Micah Clark. He believes if we can not only “fence the garden,” but make inroads in areas like Georgia and Ohio, where we “haven’t recruited, and have great football programs,” we will continue to see improvement.
- Defensively, he would like to see a return to Greg Schiano’s physical style of play. He said when Schiano was coach, you were taught and encouraged to “swarm the ball.” That’s what lead to turnovers, blocked kicks, etc. “ If you weren’t swarming the ball you were an outcast. You have to create that culture.” What we saw last season was a far departure from Greg Schiano’s defense, so let’s hope we see that physicality start to show this season.
- He likes veteran B1G coach Jerry Kill, who “has had success at other programs.” He also called out coaching improvements with Lester Erb, and loves how involved he is with his players.
- Like every other Rutgers fan out there, he can’t wait to see Janarion Grant back out there on the field. Talking about Grant’s explosiveness may have been the cause for his excitement in the picture above, and he agreed with me that we would have won a few more games had Grant not been injured early in the season.
6. And finally recruiting. When asked why he came to Rutgers, and what we need recruits to believe? That they will be the “first to do everything. With Schiano, he wanted us to be the first to win a Big East Championship. The first to play in a National Championship. You have to believe that. Plus, you get a great education while you do it? What’s better than that?”
From his mouth to our ears. Let’s hope we can get more recruits to believe in the program. Eric is truly an inspiration in his spirit, his always upbeat attitude, and all the great work he does to improve the lives of others.
For those who would like to take part in the Wings for Life event, please register here. You will be supporting a great cause, in what is sure to be a fun event. Can’t make it to a live location? There is an app you can download that allows you to participate remotely. Either way, you will be helping fund research that could one day lead us to a live in a world with empty wheelchairs.