On Wednesday night, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand will receive the Jimmy V Perseverance Award during the 20th annual ESPYS awards show on ESPN. That makes sense; LeGrand is already the living embodiment of the award's motto.
The Jimmy V Perseverance Award is named for former North Carolina State men's basketball Head Coach Jimmy Valvano. During the very first ESPYS in 1993, while in his own battle with cancer, Valvano delivered an emotional acceptance speech that included the unforgettable line, "Don't give up…don't ever give up!" The Perseverance Award, created in 2007, now goes to figures in sport who have obviously taken those words to heart.
One could not find a better example than LeGrand, who on October 16, 2010 suffered a spinal injury during a Rutgers football game that left him paralyzed from the neck down. LeGrand's remarkably positive attitude since that day has made him an inspirational figure for others battling similar injuries, and that cause has become a mission he pursues as tirelessly as his own recovery.
As for his own recovery, LeGrand has not given an inch in the fight. Initially told he would never come off the ventilator that he was put on when he reached the hospital, LeGrand left that behind after five weeks. Since last October, he has been engaged in therapy to help him regain the ability to walk, a goal he is absolutely certain he will reach, in defiance of the doctors' initial prognosis.
In May, LeGrand achieved another one of his lifetime goals when he was signed by the Buccaneers following the 2012 NFL Draft. He had dreamed of playing in the NFL since he was five years old, and his former coach at Rutgers, first-year Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano, helped make that dream come true. In June, LeGrand made his first trip to One Buccaneer Place to take in a practice and meet his teammates. During the visit, LeGrand delivered a heartfelt speech in the locker room that many of his fellow Buccaneers found inspiring. LeGrand's #52 Buccaneers jersey has since gone on sale, and the proceeds will go to the new Eric LeGrand Foundation, through which he will be supporting spinal injury research and providing aid to those with inadequate insurance.
The Buccaneers' signing of LeGrand saluted his indomitable spirit and perseverance, but it was just one of many ways he has inspired others across the nation since his injury. His courage and determination has garnered national attention, such as his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated shortly before his return to the football field last fall. In the magazine's 2011 year-end issue, that return was voted SI's Moment of the Year. LeGrand received the Most Courageous Athlete Award from New Jersey Sports Writers Association in January and the Unsung Hero Award at the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in June.
And on Wednesday night, he'll be honored once again in front of a national audience during the ESPYS, which annually recognizes team and individual achievements in the world of sports. The 2012 ESPYS, which begin at 9:00 p.m. EDT, will present such awards as Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete, Best Championship Performance and Best Breakthrough Athlete. The ceremony draws some of the most recognizable sports figures in the world to the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles and this year could honor such athletes as Aaron Rodgers, Maria Sharapova, Robert Griffin III and David Freese.
LeGrand will be there, too, representing the Buccaneers but more importantly bringing encouragement to severely injured athletes everywhere. LeGrand truly lives by the Jimmy V Don't-Ever-Give-Up motto and he is a worthy addition to the men and women who have previously received the Perseverance Award at the ESPYs. That group includes Anthony Robles, the NCAA wrestling champion who was born with a right leg; Northern State coach Don Meyer, who overcame cancer and devastating injuries from an auto accident to set the men's college basketball record for most career victories; and Kevin Everett, the former Buffalo Bills tight end who suffered an injury similar to LeGrand's in a game in 2007.
All of those recipients were honored, as the Jimmy V award seeks to do, for overcoming great obstacles through physical perseverance and determination. Everett, though, must be particularly inspiring to LeGrand. During the 2008 ESPYS, 10 months after he was injured and received an initial prognosis that he would never walk again, Everett walked onto the Nokia Theatre stage to accept his award.
LeGrand is certain that he, too, will walk again. In the meantime, he will continue to fight not only for his recovery but for the well-being of everyone who suffers similar injuries. The one thing he will not do, that Jimmy Valvano before him would not do, is give up.
"I always believe in Coach Schiano's saying: 'Where there's a will, there's a way,'" said LeGrand during his June visit to One Buc. "You can will things to happen in this world. If you believe in yourself and you believe in the man above, anything is truly possible. That's what I do every single day of my life.
"That's how I continue to live my life, and I'm out there trying to inspire a whole world of people and change the world day by day."