Hope Happens Here: Eric LeGrand

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on October 16, 2020 # Hope Happens Here: 25 Stories, Team LeGrand

A lot has changed since Eric LeGrand became paralyzed while making a tackle in a 2010 Rutgers University football game. As he passes the 10-year anniversary of his injury, he continues to have an amazing story to tell.

“When you first get injured, your mind goes to, how is my life going to be? How am I going to accomplish my goals? What does tomorrow hold? What does the next hour hold?” says LeGrand. “It can be so hard to remain positive. I was lucky to be surrounded by great people who kept me motivated and energized.”

Ironically, the unwavering positive attitude LeGrand developed early in his recovery has become a hallmark of his success and a beacon of hope for many.

“A lot of people see my story and what I’ve gone through and see that my story could be so much different if I was negative,” says LeGrand. “People gravitate to my optimism. They want to be around it. When they go through tough times, they reach out to me.”Eric LeGrand

In fact, LeGrand estimates that over the past decade, he’s had hundreds of people living with a spinal cord injury reach out to him for one-on-one support. He places that number in the thousands if he includes those who have sought his guidance when going through other challenging situations.

“That’s what it’s all about, you are going through this journey, and you need to help other people through theirs,” says LeGrand. “You offer support where you can and hope you leave an impression on people where they are inspired to live their lives to the fullest.”

Finding Success

LeGrand’s definition of success comes from an inspirational phrase that his football coach at Rutgers University used almost every day: “the peace of mind you get knowing you did everything you could to be the best you can be.”

He didn’t necessarily take it to heart as a player, but the lesson has really sunk in overtime.

“If you surround yourself with negative things, you’ll never achieve the things that can happen,” says LeGrand. “Yes, you can have your sad days and bad moments, that is fine. Those are emotions that we all have, but you have to make sure the better days outweigh those days.”

One of the biggest changes for LeGrand over the years is that he feels like he understands spinal cord injury now.

“I know how to transition to a life where you have goals that you want to go after, and you know what you can do and what you need help on,” says LeGrand. “You develop the confidence to be able to ask people to help guide you along the way.”

LeGrand continues, “In the beginning, it was all about, how do I get better? How do I walk? I still focus on that, but I’ve added more to my plate now. I want to leave a great legacy. I’m going to have the best life I possibly can and not let this hold me back.”

Redefining Goals

In fall 2013, LeGrand joined forces with the Reeve Foundation to form his own fundraising effort called Team LeGrand.

“I wanted to use my story as a platform to continue Christopher’s name and the Reeve Foundation’s incredible work,” says LeGrand. “I’m very excited to be part of the Reeve Foundation and honored to be at the forefront of trying to raise money to find a cure.”

True to form, LeGrand set ambitious goals for 2020. His Believe 2020 plan was to raise $1 million in one year in honor of the ten-year anniversary since his injury. Then COVID changed everything.

“In some ways, this pandemic is kind of like paralysis. One minute everything is great, and then the next everything is taken away from you,” says LeGrand. “You can’t do this, you can’t do that, and now you need to figure out another way, a new path forward.”

LeGrand pivoted his plan and set new goals. His 10th annual A Walk to Believe went virtual and drew more than 1,500 participants from 50 states, 2 U.S. territories, and ten countries, raising a record-breaking $190,000. Inspired by the incredible turnout, LeGrand plans to make livestreaming the event for global participation an annual feature moving forward.

“So many lessons can be learned from sitting back and reflecting and trying to understand and listen,” says LeGrand. “One potentially good thing from the pandemic is people are taking more time to reflect on priorities.”

LeGrand feels the world could learn a lot from the paralysis community about the importance of patience and being able to pivot from one plan to another without getting too down on yourself.

“I have such an appreciation for my life now because of all the things I can’t do, and the things that I can do, I don’t take for granted.”

Using Lessons Learned

It’s not surprising that LeGrand has used his time at home during the pandemic to start a couple of new business and fundraising ventures.

In April, LeGrand started working with a new app called Forbeto, a shorted version of “for a better tomorrow.” The platform helps local businesses promote current offers through targeted ads. In exchange for listening to a couple of minutes of ads two times a month, ap users get money put into an account that can be donated to many charities.

“The platform helps both business and charities that are struggling because of the pandemic,” says LeGrand. “It is ideal for people who may not have the money to donate themselves but can give a little time in exchange for money to make a donation. Right now, we are just in New Jersey, but we plan to expand across the country.”

LeGrand has also dreamed of owning his own business, but he never knew exactly what the business would be. In August, after he drank his first cup of coffee ever and loved it, his first business idea started to fall into place. He is now working toward opening a coffee shop in a new downtown development in his hometown of Woodbridge, NJ.

“I said in the middle of this pandemic that I am going to come out better on the other side of this, so that’s my plan,” says LeGrand. “I’ve got a few more things I’m working on, and when 2021 comes rolling around, I’m coming out better than before.”

LeGrand continues, “I will never be upset about this pandemic and what it has canceled for me because it brought me a whole new perspective, and it has inspired me to start my businesses. A lot of stuff is happening right now very fast, so hopefully, in the next 10 years, you’ll find me on top of the world in the business world and on the top of the world in fundraising.”

Looking Ahead

Moving forward, LeGrand wants to continue to look for new partnerships and opportunities to step out of his comfort zone to find new and different ways to draw more attention to the spinal cord injured community and fundraise for Team LeGrand.

“We are getting closer and closer to this cure, and I think we will find it,” says LeGrand. “I’m inspired by all the technological advancements we’ve seen in the last 10 years. Over the next decade, I hope we will see people walking again and regaining function of secondary conditions.”

In the meantime, LeGrand plans to continue to focus his efforts on bringing people together to support each other and paralysis.

“I want to show by example that, with everything going on in the world and the social justice movement, that we are one,” says LeGrand. “No matter what you look like, the color of your skin, or the disability you may have. I want to be able to show that I am an African American who has a disability, and I have brought millions of people together for one cause. Look what I am able to do in my situation. We can all do this.”