“My dream is to come back and play football again. I’ve been working my tail off every single day,” Ryan Shazier said to reporters on Wednesday, June 6, at his first press conference since he suffered a devastating spinal injury during Week 13 of the 2017 NFL season.
In one of the most shocking scenes in recent NFL history, Shazier was left lying on Paul Brown Stadium turf — unable to move his legs — after delivering a helmet-first hit on Bengals receiver Josh Malone. What made the injury most frightening was that Shazier was fully conscious during the entire ordeal. As someone who has watched the NFL for most of his life, it was the most disturbing thing I had ever personally seen while watching football.
Two days after the injury, Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery on December 6, 2017, and has been rehabbing ever since. Fast forward to late April and Shazier was walking across the stage at the 2018 NFL Draft to announce the Pittsburgh Steelers first-round selection. It was astounding.
Then, about a month after this awe-inspiring moment, Shazier spoke to the media for the first time to talk about his rehab process and his dream of making it back to the NFL.
And while Shazier’s story of determination is undoubtedly inspiring, it’s certainly not the first, as there have been many undaunted athletes before him who have clawed their way back from devastating injury.
Manning underwent multiple neck surgeries along with spinal fusion surgery ahead of the 2011 season, which forced him to miss both the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Manning would make his comeback in Denver in 2013, setting all sorts of offensive records en route to two Super Bowl appearances and one victory.
Paul George suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in recent NBA history when he a compound tibia-fibula fracture during a Team USA scrimmage back in 2014. While the injury looked career-threatening, George was actually able to play in six games that season before putting together his best ever season (at the time) in 2015.
Despite the fact that this was before smartphones and Twitter, Miami Hurricanes Willis McGahee suffered a knee injury that was so gruesome, it went viral anyway.
During the fourth quarter during the 2003 Fiesta Bowl National Championship Game, McGahee — who was considered a consensus top 5 NFL draft pick — suffered gruesome injury after catching a screen pass, causing tears of the ACL, PCL, and MCL.
However, McGahee never gave up his dream of making it to the NFL and was taken in the first-round anyway. After sitting out the entire 2003 season, McGahee made his NFL debut for the Buffalo Bills in 2004, rushing for over 1000 yards. McGahee would go on to have a 10-year NFL career.
Before he was an unlikeable Yankee, Giancarlo Stanton was a likable Miami Marlin. And during his 2014 season with the Marlins, Stanton suffered an injury that would cost most men their careers. Most.
Stanton was hit in the face by a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers, which left him with facial fractures, lacerations, and dental damage so severe he was forced to miss the rest of the season. But being the world-class athlete that he in, Stanton was back in the batter’s box for the Marlins that very next season.
Lance Armstong’s name may carry a bit of baggage these days, there was a time when Armstong’s return from testicular cancer to win the Tour De France was one of the greatest achievements in the history of American sports.
While the news of Armstrong’s steroid use has since tainted those once heralded accomplishments, there’s no denying that Armstrong’s return to the mountaintop of cycling was a massive achievement of the human spirit.