Eric LeGrand will receive the Warrior Award during the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony this Friday evening. LeGrand sustained a spinal cord injury at his C3 and C4 vertebrae during a fourth quarter play at MetLife Stadium in October of 2010 while playing football for Rutgers University.
With close to six million Americans living with some form of paralysis, including 1.3 million spinal cord injuries, LeGrand harnessed the national spotlight from his injury and decided to give back to the community and inspire those living with and impacted by paralysis. He launched Team LeGrand in September of 2013 to carry forward the legacy of the late Christopher Reeve.
SI.com: WWE first reached out to you on a Tuesday, then requested to connect with you that following Thursday. You did not yet know about WWE’s plan to announce you as the 2017 winner of the Warrior Award. Were you surprised to receive the news about the honor?
LeGrand: There was a lot of anticipation. I got an email from Triple H’s assistant, and it seemed like we picked a time for the call that was the furthest distance away. I kept asking myself, ‘What does Triple H want to say to me?’ Then I started thinking, ‘Did I do anything wrong?’ Hearing the news was amazing.
SI.com: Are you prepared for your “WrestleMania Moment”?
LeGrand: I never thought this would ever happen to me. You watch these superstars on TV as a kid, and they’re larger-than-life superstars who you try to emulate as a kid. Growing up, I knew I wasn’t going to be a wrestler. I never thought I’d have a ‘WrestleMania Moment’, but now, I can’t get my head around what it will be like to go on stage that night at the Hall of Fame.
SI.com: WWE, even if it is only for three hours every Monday, allows people to believe in the impossible. You are providing hope and belief to the staggering number of people who have a form of paralysis. While this is not the path you chose, as it chose you, could you touch on the importance of believing?
LeGrand: The path did choose me. I thought I would be in the NFL, hopefully working out my second contract right now. That’s where I thought I would be right now, but this life chose me. I realized early on that I did not want to be miserable. I got hurt when I was 20 years old. I still had my whole life in front of me, so I decided that I was not going to be depressed. Even though I couldn’t play the game of football anymore, I decided I was still going to become a broadcaster and talk about the game as much as possible. I wanted to finish school. I still had goals. Even though I knew I was going to need a lot of help, I knew I could do it.
Since the injury, I’ve been given this great platform to be able to share my story. It really hit me that I need to give back to people in similar situations. As I was continuing my therapy at Kessler Institute in New Jersey, I was seeing people all the time who were in a similar situation as me. They’d come up to me all the time and say, ‘I saw you doing this!’ and ‘I saw you doing that!’ I wanted to pay it back to them by having a foundation and raising awareness and money so we can eventually find a cure for this one day. We can give people hope. I’m going to keep on believing and not give up and not let it hold me down.
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SI.com: Who are your favorite wrestlers? Do you hold the former football players, like Brock Lesnar, Big E, and Roman Reigns, in higher regard?
LeGrand: My three favorite wrestlers growing up were The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Kane. I love the big athletic dudes that go out there and straight dominate somebody, and that’s Kane as soon as you hear Kane’s music drop. I love Stone Cold. When you hear that glass break, he gets the biggest pop ever. And The Rock? He knows how to take over a crowd and make everyone love him or hate him.
I’ve met The Rock and Kane. The Rock and I met this past summer at his Ballers premiere in Miami, and I met Kane last year at SummerSlam. If I could ever meet Stone Cold, that would be awesome. It’s funny—I was wearing my “Austin 3:16” shirt while I was telling Kane how big a fan I am of his. Kane got mad that I wasn’t wearing one of his T-shirts.
SI.com: Can you clear up any of the misunderstandings regarding paralysis? And is your goal still working toward a world with no wheelchairs?
LeGrand: I always tell people that this injury doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any given moment, whether it is a car accident or a sports injury, or gun violence or falling off a ladder. This injury completely turns your life upside down. If you can accept what has happened to you, then try your best to continue to live life and not let this overcome you. You then realize you are still a normal person. You need a lot of help, but you can go on fighting. For people who don’t understand people with paralysis, treat them the same way you’d treat anybody else. I know they’re in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t mean they are sick. That’s a misconception. Just because someone has a spinal cord injury, it doesn’t mean that a person can’t do things the way an able-bodied person can—it’s just done a little bit differently.
It’s all coming about from a show that I worked with on Fox Sports called Mission Possible. I was able to share another man’s story. He was born with deformed legs and he had to have his legs amputated when he was four. His name was Rohan Murphy, and he went on to walk on to the wrestling team at Penn State. I was able to share his story with Triple H, and without being able to share his story, I don’t know where I would be. We’re very excited to share the Mission Possible stories with the world.
I am still working toward a world with no wheelchairs. Christopher Reeves started that, and I feel he passed the torch to me after my injury. Now, it’s time to finish that goal and have a world empty of wheelchairs. I’m 26 years old, and I hope God has me here a lot longer, and I hope we can achieve that goal. I want to thank the WWE for this opportunity.