I’ve been asked this question quite a few times, and the answer is always the same in my case: “It doesn’t feel like anything.” You may say to yourself, “What?” but honestly that’s what it felt like. I didn’t feel anything, when it happened the next thing I knew is I was on the ground with my helmet facing leftwards and I was looking into the grass. All I could see was my left hand out in front of me, and instantly knew something was wrong.
A quick story of how it happened. We were at football camp my junior year in high school, at Central Washington University, on the last day of camp doing our scrimmages against the opposing teams. We normally do 3-4 scrimmages consisting of 10 plays on offense and 10 plays on defense. This was the 2nd scrimmage of the day, against Redmond High School, and we had already finished our 10 plays of defense and were trotting off the field. Then one of our coaches yelled out, “One more play!” The other coach agreed to it, and we went into the huddle and prepared for one more play of defense. Little did I know that my life would change forever in the coming moments. I played safety, so I trot back to my spot and start reading the offense, the ball snaps and I see a receiver running a post route right towards me. I dig my feet in and run to break up the play at the point of attack, but in doing so I unknowingly arrived at the player quicker than the ball and try making a tackle. We collide and from the force of my body going up at him and his force coming down from jumping for the ball, it jars my helmet and snaps quickly to the left breaking my neck and suffering a C5-C6 spinal cord injury.
Now, the next couple of minutes were the strangest and scariest of my life. I’ve had stingers and slight concussions in the past, but I instantly knew this was way more serious. I lay on the ground, unable to move, but fully aware and conscious and luckily breathing on my own. When my teammates and coaches realized something happened and I wasn’t moving, they rushed to my location to see what was going on. Lying on the ground, looking at my hand, I felt like a fish out of water. I felt like my entire body was on fire. The best way I’ve been able to explain it is by comparing it to the feeling you get when you’re foot falls asleep and starts waking up again. You know the feeling, it’s all tingly and weird and it’s a hot type sensation. That’s how my entire body felt, just tingly and weird, and hot. I thought my legs were curled up into my chest but they were straight. My whole equilibrium was all messed up and I can’t really explain it other than that.
Prior to the injury, I never broke a bone. I never had a bad sprain or anything relatively serious happen to me. The worst I can think of is I had a really bad in-grown toenail in junior high that had to be cut out, other than that I was very healthy and lucky with injuries. I guess I just had the “go big or go home” type mentality when it came to breaking a bone, I unfortunately chose the worst one! All jokes aside, breaking your neck may or may not hurt. Some people have broken their neck and walked out of the hospital weeks later because there was no spinal damage. That is where the damage and issues come from because the spinal cord controls all aspects of movement and feeling in a complex connection between itself and the brain. The higher the injury and closer it is to the brain, the worse off the implications will be. Christopher Reeve had a C1-C2 spinal cord injury, which is the top two vertebrae on your spinal cord and because of this it impacted and affected much more of his body than someone who had a lower level injury or had no spinal damage. I was lucky enough to have an incomplete spinal cord injury, meaning the spinal cord was damaged but it was not severed. Had it been severed I would be in a much worse situation.
So, what did it feel like to break my neck? It didn’t feel like anything. One minute I was making a routine tackle, the next I was laying on the ground motionless. It was scary, but I have taken the situation and stayed positive and worked my tail off to get to where I am today. I have a long journey ahead of me, but with continued dedication and perseverance, there is nothing stopping me. “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”