My name is Trenell. I consider myself an inspiring young man that has overcome tremendous adversity to fulfill my calling to help others. At the tender age of 14, I experienced a life-changing football injury which resulted in paralysis from the neck down. What were meant to be my high school glory days turned to temporary defeat. In my eyes temporary defeat does not mean permanent failure because “nothing beats a failure, but a try.” Here is my story.
My injury occurred the 7th game of the 1995 football season in Sherman Texas. I was starting for the first time at the defensive back position i.e. strong safety. I was the only freshman on the varsity football team. I blitzed from my strong safety position to stuff a sweep. The running back reversed field as soon as he receives the pitch, trying to avoid a loss. I made a textbook tackle from behind, hitting the running back, wrapping up and driving him toward the ground. Then my teammate comes from the opposite side to assist with the tackle launching himself at the falling running back. He misses, striking me on the crown of the helmet and crushing the fourth vertebra in my neck.
I was paralyzed immediately after the hit. I knew something was wrong but didn’t recognize the seriousness of it till later. I thought I broke my back. I told the trainers and my brother this. I found out later it was my neck. While on the field, someone asked me “can you squeeze my hand?” I responded, “I can’t.” I didn’t know the person was touching me. I only felt a couple of things: my body curling into a fetal position despite being physically on my left side. I was still in the position that I made the tackle. Another interesting feeling happened after I was rolled on my back. My arms and legs felt like they were pointed toward the sky. It felt weird. The ambulance took me quickly to the local hospital.
My mom and brother were at my side once I made it to the emergency room. They continue to be by my side today. I remember hearing noises in the room. I asked my mom “what is that noise?” She said, “They are cutting your pads off of you.” I looked at her again and asked “am I paralyzed?” She nodded her head “yes.” I asked her to pray for me. I was in the Intensive Care Unit for 18 days. While in ICU my heart stopped three times & my lungs collapsed. The doctors didn’t know if I was going to live or die. They shared with my mom of the possibility of losing me again. My mom told me she said “you have done your job it’s in the Lord’s hands now.” She prayed to God saying “he’s my son, but he’s your child. If it is your will to take him go ahead and take him. If you see fit for him to live, I will do everything in my power to make sure he’s taken care of.” She has kept her promise! The doctors mentioned that I may use a machine to breathe for me for the rest of my life. I don’t use one. I contribute this to my faith in Jesus Christ.
Having faith and getting an education are important in my family. My mom always stressed to my brother and I the importance of getting a good education. She didn’t graduate from high school. I have seen firsthand the struggles one encounters without getting a high school diploma. As a result, I was determined to graduate from high school and attend college. I went to school while in rehab in Dallas, did homeschooling, went to Fred Douglas alternative school and went back to the high school my senior year. In May of 1999 I rolled across the stage at bearcat Stadium to receive my diploma. In the fall of 2000, I enrolled in the rehabilitation program at the University of North Texas. May 2005 I graduated from UNT with a Bachelors of Science Degree in rehabilitation studies and a minor in sociology. Propelled by a desire to help people I pursued my Masters degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. I received it in August 2008! I’m certified as a rehabilitation counselor. I satisfied my mom’s desire for me to get a good education. I’m currently fulfilling my dream of helping others. I’m not trying to impress you but to impress upon you that “It’s impossible to stop a man or woman who will not quit!” If I can do it, you can do it!
Was it easy? No! Honestly, I didn’t want to go back to school. I didn’t want to be seen in public. I was afraid people would look at me funny. They did & still do! My friends I hung out with didn’t come around much. When they did, I fabricate reasons for them not to come over. I went through a cycle of anger, denial, bargaining, depression and finally adapting to the situation.
I was angry because I thought I did nothing to deserve this. I just played football. I felt God was punishing me for no reason. I wondered “why me?” constantly. Have you ever asked yourself that question? Then I thought I would walk again in a year or two. I remember telling some friends this. It didn’t happen so I started bargaining with God & the devil. That didn’t work either. Depression reared its ugly head in my life. It lasted for 2 1/2 to three years. I wanted to die. I thought about starving myself to death. That wasn’t a good idea because I like food too much! Seriously, if anyone is dealing with depression get help immediately. In an attempt to end this vicious cycle, I turned to my faith in Jesus Christ.
I got tired of crying myself to sleep. I finally did what my mom always encouraged me to do. Pray! I asked Jesus to come into my life and have his way. A peace which passes all understanding overcame me. I heard a tender voice say “Trenell. You put football before me. I don’t want anything put before me. But through this injury, I’m going to inspire others that if they put me first and use their minds to the fullest. They can do anything.” My question “why me” was answered. I learned my purpose is bigger than playing football. Football was just a vehicle to help pay for college, buy my mom a home & car. God provided those things anyway. As you can see, my faith in Jesus Christ has played a vital role in adapting to living with a disability.
You might have awakened this morning dreading this day. Feeling like the world is against you. I hope you recognize that you’re not alone. You’ve heard my story and & have seen that temporary defeat does not mean permanent failure. Having faith in a higher power, a burning desire to succeed, and assistance from others makes “all things possible.”