By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (June 14, 2014) -- There are plenty of ways Kyle Flood could have spent a rare weekend day off with his family, but none better, according to Rutgers’ third-year football coach, than where he was Saturday morning.
Back in a familiar setting at High Point Solutions Stadium Flood helped oversee the collaboration between Eric LeGrand’s fourth annual A Walk To Believe and the New Jersey Special Olympics Team.
They are two causes Flood is particularly passionate about.
“I think it’s a perfect marriage of two awesome events – the sendoff for the Special Olympics New Jersey Team going to the USA Special Olympic games and Eric’s walk,” said Flood, who was joined by his wife and three children. “I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning.”
LeGrand’s latest Walk To Believe drew its largest crowd yet (no official estimate was given), with the presence of nearly 1,000 coaches, athletes and supporters from the New Jersey Special Olympics Team adding to the total. But LeGrand said he is noticing an increase in supporters in general at his events.
The former Rutgers football player was paralyzed from the neck down after making a tackle in a game in 2010.
“It’s a tremendous crowd,” said LeGrand, whose No. 52 is the only retired jersey in Rutgers football history. “It’s crazy. People aren’t fading away. I’m actually gaining more supporters as the years go on.”
A Walk To Believe, a 5K event that started and ended outside the West Gate of High Point Solutions Stadium after winding through the campus, has raised more than $50,000 for spinal cord research and aid in its first three years.
Current Rutgers players know why: It’s because LeGrand continues to be such an inspiring figure in his battle to walk again.
“It means a lot to all of us to know that the support is still there and that everyone has been consistent in how seriously they take this,” said Dorian Miller, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Metuchen, N.J. “I know it means a lot to Eric to see a turnout like this after four years.
“He’s an amazing person. Every day, to see him wake up with the drive he has to someday walk again, it’s inspiring.”
LeGrand drew a standing ovation as he made his way onto the field at High Point Solutions Stadium, where fans and supporters seated in the west stands and a group of approximately 20 Rutgers players, as well as Flood, greeted him. He spoke briefly to the crowd before launching the start of his 5K walk.
LeGrand called himself “blessed,” telling the crowd his goal was to find a goal for spinal cord injuries like his “within five to 10 years” and that he someday hopes “it will be like tearing your ACL.”
He said he has continued to make progress with added body movement, recently releasing a video showing him able to flex his index finger.
“I can move a lot more,” LeGrand said. “I can push myself forward. I can get my fingers every now and then to move, which is pretty cool. My back is at the point where I can move myself all the way forward and back, just using my back muscles. It’s unreal.
“It’s slower than I want it to be but things are happening. So I’m happy and thankful for that.”
LeGrand capped the festivities by hosting a barbecue that he said served as his graduation party. He graduated from Rutgers last month.
It was all part of a day that left Flood believing there was nowhere he would rather be this particular Saturday morning.
“There’s just a great feeling with everyone here,” said Flood, the honorary head coach for the New Jersey Special Olympics Team (opening ceremonies for the USA Special Olympics are set for Sunday at the Prudential Center). “There’s a smile on everyone’s face. There’s a motivation in all of the volunteers who have given their time to put on events like this, hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers on both sides – the Special Olympics and with the Believe Foundation.
“I think it’s not only a tremendous way to give back but to make yourself a better person.”