Eric LeGrand Encourages Lawrentians to bELieve

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Eric LeGrand Encourages Lawrentians to bELieve

Life can change in a moment – and choosing to believe in yourself is what makes the difference between tragedy and triumph. That’s the message Eric LeGrand (with his unique spin on “bELieve”) shared with Lawrentians last week. If anyone knows, it’s him.

On October 16, 2010, LeGrand, a Rutgers University football star, sustained injuries to his C3 and C4 vertebrae during the last quarter of a game vs. Army at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. LeGrand woke up days later in the hospital, paralyzed from the neck down, with his dreams of an NFL career shattered. Doctors told his family he might never breathe on his own.

LeGrand had other plans, telling everyone, “I’ll be back.”

He has used his injury as an opportunity to show others that obstacles can be transformed into opportunities. He is now an author, sports analyst, philanthropist, and a successful entrepreneur involved with a number of business initiatives, including his own Shop FiftyTwo clothing brand and LeGrand Coffee House. The Rutgers graduate was recognized by Sports Illustrated with its Best Moment Award, and also presented with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2012 ESPY Awards. He was subsequently inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2017, receiving the Warrior Award. Earlier this week, he was selected as the New Jersey Sportscaster of the  year by the National Sports Media Association.

LeGrand began his Lawrenceville talk by recounting his injury and continuing recovery process. From the earliest moments, he was supported by his family, friends, teammates, the Rutgers community, and countless well-wishers from around the world. Members of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles came to visit him in the hospital, leading LeGrand to quip, “I thought, ‘This is awesome! I’m going to be a first round pick!’” Rutgers Football Head Coach Greg Schiano spent evenings in the hospital to give Eric’s mother, Karen, a break.

But the nighttime was when doubts crept into LeGrand’s head. “There was a call bell next to my head, but I was terrified that it would fall down and I wouldn’t be able to get help,” he explained. He received a lot of food for thought when asked one of his nurses why she’d chosen to work in the ICU. “I do it for my patients,” she said. “I see people’s lives flipped upside down and I’m here to help.”

There is strength, he said, in asking for help. “It’s OK to be vulnerable and genuine. Also, no matter how bad you have it, someone else is going to have it worse,” he said. “Look at all the blessings surrounding you and concentrate on the things you have.” LeGrand expressed his personal gratitude for the millions of people who have followed his journey and offered their encouragement. “I’m grateful each and every day.” 

He said another turning point came when he was re-hospitalized with a near-fatal infection, which caused 105.5-degree fever. “I was half a degree away from brain dead,” he said. During his recovery, he learned that a young patient passed away just down the hall. “That girl would do anything for another day of life,” he thought. “I knew I had to push through this.”

And push through he has. In fact, he has chopped, drawing upon the discipline he learned as a student-athlete “At Rutgers, we have a saying, ‘Keep chopping,’” he said. If you find yourself lost in a deep forest, you have to keep chopping away at trees, one at a time, to find your way out, he explained.

Eric LeGrand & Andrew Boanoh '23

Eric LeGrand and School President Andrew Boanoh '23

The idea for his coffee shop, located in Woodbridge, N.J., was what he called “a leap of faith” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dismayed by how separated people had become, he decided he wanted to create a local gathering place. “People look to me for inspiration, to bring unity to the community with a daily cup of believe and every time you take a sip of my coffee it’s a reminder to go out there and attack your goals – don’t hold anything back,” he said.

LeGrand concluded by telling Lawrentians to wake up each day saying “I’m going to make today my best day,” so at the day’s end they’ll have the peace of mind knowing they did everything to be the best person they could be.

For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.