Taliaferro’s story inspires youngsters
By Steven Hoffman
Adam Taliaferro’s words about belief, courage, and determination resonated with the youngsters at Camp Dreamcatcher, but the reality was that he didn’t even need to speak to leave a lasting impression. The fact that Taliaferro stood in front of this group said plenty about what kind of a person he is.
Taliaferro held his dreams in his hands in the fall of 2000. After an outstanding scholastic career as a running back and defensive back with the Eastern High School Vikings, he earned a scholarship to Penn State University.
Even though he excelled at football from the age of seven, people still doubted his abilities and questioned whether he was big enough to play football at an elite level.
“People told me, ‘You’re not big enough, strong enough, fast enough,’” Taliaferro explained. “There’s always going to be people who doubt you.”
But Taliaferro believed in himself and defied the odds by winning a spot as a cornerback on Penn State’s vaunted defense as a freshman. Then, on Sept. 23, 2000, in the fifth game of the season, Taliaferro went to make a tackle on an Ohio State tailback and his head struck the runner’s knee. Taliaferro then landed on the turf with the crown of his helmet landing first.
As he lay prone on the ground, Taliaferro couldn’t move his arms. Then he realized he couldn’t move his legs. The impact of the play had shattered his C5 vertebrate.
Taliaferro underwent surgery at the Ohio State Medical Center to fuse his C5 vertebrate and was then airlifted to the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital to begin a long recovery. He was paralyzed from the neck down and doctors told him he would likely never walk again.
Taliaferro said that he spent the days after the injury asking himself why this had happened to him.
“I cried every night for two months,” he said.
He went for intensive therapy at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. He knew that the only thing he could do was work as hard as he could to regain movement. He went through six hours of physical therapy each day.
At first, he would focus on moving his fingers. Nothing would happen. He would concentrate on moving his toes. Nothing would happen.
But he learned some valuable life lessons as he was rehabbing.
“Being paralyzed, I couldn’t do anything on my own. I had to ask for help for everything,” he said.
The good thing, he explained, was that there were people in his life when he needed them.
“People are put in your life to help you,” Taliaferro explained. “There are so many people in this camp who are here to help you.”
It took time and hard work, but eventually Taliaferro moved his fingers and toes. Then his arms and legs. With every small breakthrough he was more determined to make progress.
“After awhile, I started to get my strength back,” he explained. “I believed in myself, I worked hard, and I surrounded myself with good people.”
He learned to walk again and after eight months of rehabilitation he walked out of the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.
His story was an inspiration to everyone who heard it—and plenty of people heard it. He gained national attention and Taliaferro remembers to this day how supportive people were.
“I’m still just amazed by the community support,” he said. “It’s something that I’ll always be thankful for.”
Less than a year after the injury, he returned to Penn State and led the team out on the field one afternoon.
Taliaferro had always wanted to play football, but his playing days were most certainly over. He needed to decide what he would do with the rest of his life.
He decided to go to law school, graduating from the Rutgers School of Law in Camden. He worked for a law firm for five years before joining Bristol-Myers Squibb as a healthcare advocate. He has become a motivational speaker and also established a foundation that helps student-athletes who have suffered spinal cord injuries.
Taliaferro learned about Camp Dreamcatcher on Twitter and knew that he wanted to talk to the youngsters to share his story.
“I wanted to tell you my story. I’m no different than any of you. We’re all going to have adversity. Don’t give up. Whatever you achieve in life it starts with you,” he said.
He also encouraged the youngsters at Camp Dreamcatcher, many of whom are facing serious challenges, to seize the day.
“Enjoy each and every day,” he encouraged them. “Don’t rush yourself. I could have died and I would have missed so many things that are important to me. Don’t rush the day because each day is a blessing.”