November 14, 2012

Gridiron Heroes

Scott Evans has the story of a group helping injured athletes thrive.

Scott: Maybe you have seen the stories. Young athletes badly hurt while playing football.

Chris Canales: When you can live through an injury, stay positive and live your life to the fullest.

Scott: It is a story Chris Canales and his father know all too well.

Eddie Canales: He played with a lot of heart. He already had some scholarships – three full scholarship offers. He had 12 schools writing to him.

Scott: The former star senior football player had a promising future, when suddenly…

Chris: It was four minutes left and about four or five of our guys missed a tackle, and I made the last tackle but, with that, I broke my neck. So everything just changed from there.

Scott: Chris broke his C5 and C6 vertebrae, leaving him in a wheelchair.

Chris: Well, I knew right away that something was different.

Scott: Doctors would later tell the Canales family that Chris would never move anything from his shoulders down. It was a diagnosis they were not ready for.

Eddie: We first looked at each other. We weren’t really kind of grasping that he is telling us that he’ll be paralyzed.

Scott: Is this real?

Eddie: Yeah. Even though we had a whole bunch of people there for support, we felt isolated, like nobody knew what we were going to go through.

Scott: But far too many families do know exactly what the Canales’s are dealing with. Since 1977, at least 265 high school football players have been paralyzed by spinal cord injuries.

While attending a state championship game in 2002, Chris and his dad witnessed another talented player go down with a spinal cord injury.

Chris: When I saw Corey Fulbright get injured, that kind of changed my mindset and I wanted to go help others and stop thinking about myself. So helping other guys actually helped me.

Scott: So Chris, his dad and his coach started the organization The Gridiron Heroes to support players and their families as they try to learn to cope with the life-changing diagnosis.

Eddie: We’re able to provide wheel chair accessible vehicles. We’ve done five brand new vans. Those are very costly. We’ve helped fix wheelchairs. Just being there for the families was so important because then they had somebody to talk to.

Chris: We also try to get them to meet each other, so they can have somebody else to talk to, not just me.

Scott: But Gridiron Heroes offers more than just morale and financial support.

Eddie: What we need to do now is trying to start on the prevention side of this injury, proper tackling techniques starting at the youth levels. Because we have to understand, by the time they get to high school, they have already learned the bad habits.

Chris: If your head is down it’s more on our head. And, you know, that’s what gets the majority of our guys – the head down. That’s something we’ve got to change.

Scott: We are here in Austin, Texas at Regents School where these athletes are re-learning how to tackle in order to minimize serious injury on the field.

Beck Brydon: We engage our hips and we keep our elbows in. Good things can happen and we can play at a very high level. And play it a lot more safely.

Scott: Do you think that, with these new tackling techniques, you are more prepared, as a person going in for the tackle, to stay a little safer?

William Deskins: Absolutely. Getting lower and leading with your chest and hips as opposed to your head and upper body, is much safer for sure.

Scott: Teammate Parker Pruitt told me he is already seeing the benefit of the new technique.

Parker Pruitt: It’s great. I’m happy to be out here, still be playing football. And actually, it saved probably my football career because my mom said if I got another concussion I’d be out.

Scott: Even though 19-year-old Cory ended up in a wheelchair after a bad hit on the field, he says it doesn’t keep his spirits down.

Cory Borner: Just live life and enjoy you’re alive. It could’ve been worse whatever your injury is. So what I say, just keep your head up and find a way.

Scott: Scott Evans, Channel One News.


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