At the end of February and again in early March, Project SAFE of The SAFE Foundation brought inspirational speaker Eric Legrand to address high school students at The Yeshivah of Flatbush, Magen David Yeshivah, and Hillel Yeshiva. In each of those assemblies, Eric, a 24-year-old Rutgers University and potential NFL football player, proved that he could wow the crowds – even off the football fields.
Eric made his presentation from his wheelchair, for due to a failed tackle in a 2010 game, Eric is paralyzed from the neck down. In one moment, Eric Legrand went from being a rising athletic star to not being able to stand up. As he says, “Now, I cannot even scratch my head.”
While this is indeed true, Eric Legrand, with his plethora of positive messages, was able to very powerfully affect the minds of over a thousand people in just a few hours.
The students sat silently and attentively as Eric recounted the details of his fall and his failed attempt to give his fans a thumbs-up. He told of his diagnosis, rehabilitation, and the experiences that shaped his present philosophies.
Eric shared the story of the time he witnessed a 17-year-old girl being rushed into the emergency room. She had a brain aneurysm and didn’t make it through the night. When Eric saw how distraught her family and friends were, he knew that he never wanted his family to grieve like that over him. He vowed to do what he could to get back on his feet.
He also spoke of Germaine, a dear friend he met in the rehabilitation facility, who, in contrast to Eric’s large support system of family and friends, had no one by his side. Upon seeing this, Eric decided never to complain about anything again.
He said, “No matter how bad your situation is, there’s someone out there who has it worse. I believe in focusing on what I have, not on what I do not have. I’ve come to the realization that it is what it is with this injury, and I’ve got to make the best of it. I have a house, and space, and sometimes I say to myself, ‘Wow. Some people don’t have this. I am so blessed.’”
When Eric finished speaking and answering questions, everyone rose from their chairs in enthusiastic applause. Then, like bees buzzing around a hive, students came up to the stage and surrounded Eric with their comments, additional questions, and praise.
Yossi Sirote, LCSW, Assistant Director of The Project SAFE School Program, reported that the students and administrators at Hillel couldn’t get enough of Eric. He said one student exclaimed, “You guys always bring the best speakers!”
Dr. Etty Mizrahi, the Director of Guidance at Yeshivah of Flatbush High School, was so impressed with the program as well. She said, “The feedback following the presentation was astounding. Eric hit every message we want our students to hear: be resilient, believe, make the best of situations, go to college, don’t do drugs, always look at the positive, you can do anything you set your mind to, use family and friends as support– you name it!”
Director of Project SAFE, Shira Berkowitz, LMSW, added, “Eric showed that no matter what happens in life, people do have the capacity to readjust their thinking and their purpose and recreate themselves. I was so impressed with the presentation and how the students reacted to him. They were incredibly respectful and treated Eric as the hero he is.”
“There are not so many people who are optimistic about life,” expressed a YOF student Jessica Vaysman. “This was so inspiring.”
Hillel student Michael Ancona said, “Today I learned always to value what I have.”
Meyer Kamkhatchi, another student at the YOF, shared that Eric’s speech made him realize whatever difficulty he’d gone through was nothing compared to this.
Sam Zalta of YOF, added, “This really inspires teenagers to have a dream and to fulfill that dream.”
Eric’s motto is “Believe,” because he believes that miracles are possible and that G-d has a reason for what happened. At one point, he stated, “I am here to do bigger and better things than to just play football.” Judging from the students’ reactions, Eric Legrand is indeed fulfilling a very grand plan.
Note: Eric has since regained movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body and anticipates the day he will be able to walk again.