You gotta BELIEVE in yourself: LeGrand


Kearny youngsters got a lesson they’ll likely never forget last Friday, Nov. 18, when Eric LeGrand came to visit.

LeGrand, who played defensive tackle for the Scarlet Knights football squad of Rutgers University, suffered a spinal injury in a game with Army at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 16, 2010, and was paralyzed from the neck down.

Although he has since experienced some movement in his shoulders, LeGrand remains confined to a wheelchair.

But the Colonia High School alum hasn’t allowed the accident to slow down his life as he’s managed to crisscross the country to deliver a message of hope.

“Success: The peace of mind you get from knowing you did everything you could to be the best you can be.”

That’s the message LeGrand brought last week during a 90-minute visit to Washington Elementary School where he talked to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the school gym.

Kids from the same grades at Garfield School were also invited so there was a combinedaudience of about 500 students and staff at rapt attention during the former athlete’s presentation, said Washington School Principal Jon Zimmerman.

Zimmerman credited fourth-grade instructor Stefanee (Pace) Kivlehan – now in her second year as a district teacher – for suggesting that the school reach out to LeGrand. “She thought it would be good for the kids to hear his story,” he said.

And about his book, “BELIEVE: My Faith And The Tackle That Changed My Life,” published by HarperCollins, and his charity, Team LeGrand of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, set up in 2013 to fund research toward a cure for paralysis and to help improve the quality of life for those with spinal cord injuries.

My husband Patrick played football at Rutgers with Eric and I played soccer there and, between the two teams, we had nice little group of friends,” Pace Kivlehan said“I knew he had talked to schools … and this year I … texted him and asked if he was available to talk to our kids.”

LeGrand agreed and a couple of weeks ago a date was set.

To help prepare the school for his visit, Zimmerman arranged for teachers to provide their classes with some background and videos on spinal injuries and rehabilitation efforts for such patients, along with information on LeGrand.

“We also raised $1,000 for his Team LeGrand charity,” the principal said.

It also helped that, according to Pace Kivlehan, “a lot of our staff and kids are huge Rutgers fans.”

So, to make their guest feel at home, staff and students incorporated a pep rally-like theme to the event, decorating the gym with signs proclaiming, “Believe!”, and wearing red and black to honor the Scarlet Knights’ colors. 

When LeGrand arrived, in a specially-equipped van driven by his mother Karen, and wheeled into the school, he was greeted by students “chanting his name and applauding for a good couple of minutes,” Zimmerman recalled. “You thought you were at a rock concert.”

Then LeGrand began the program with a video that presented him in his formative years, then playing for Rutgers and the day he was hurt. He talked about waking up in a hospital, not being able to move his limbs, about his treatment at Kessler and meeting a fellow patient who inspired him to refocus his life on maximizing his talents.

The Team LeGrand website notes that LeGrand – who was a junior at the time of his accident – has resumed his collegiate endeavors by taking classes via Skype and has begun a career in sports broadcasting as an analyst for Rutgers Football Radio Network. 

And he continues to be a motivational speaker.

He has always inspired us,” said Pace Kivlehan. “He makes you think about how he goes about his life, always persevering with his travels to places like Miami, Vegas. He makes it happen. I really think our kids are going to remember this day.”

Readily agreeing, Zimmerman said he plans to hang LeGrand’s inspirational quote about success in the school hallway as a reminder to everyone in the school.

“I’d say this day has been the most amazing hour and a half I’ve spent in my 13 years as an administrator,” he said.

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