October 2020 marked 10 years since Eric LeGrand sustained a life-changing spinal cord injury in a college football game, playing for Rutgers University in New Jersey. Since that day, Eric has been paralyzed below his shoulders. But for those who know Eric—either personally or through his work—his injury has only propelled him forward to live a full life of great purpose and personal and professional accomplishments.
Fun fact! Eric was a consultant for the movie, The Upside, which starred Bryan Cranston as a man with quadriplegia and Kevin Hart as his caretaker.
As a philanthropist, motivational speaker, sports analyst, entrepreneur, and role model to so many, Eric, 30, has turned nearly every obstacle in his life into an opportunity. He has inspired countless people with his infectious “anything is possible” attitude. His foundation, Team LeGrand—a fundraising arm for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation—has raised more than a million dollars toward finding a cure for paralysis and helping improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.
BAYADA has been providing home health care to Eric since the day he returned home after his injury. It has been a true honor and privilege to support this amazing man in bringing his mission to life. I first met Eric when I visited his home in 2015. I was incredibly impressed and deeply humbled by the way he met the challenges of living with quadriplegia—with unwavering positivity, wisdom beyond his years, and a healthy dose of humor. I recently caught up with Eric—virtually, of course—to see how he’s managing in the pandemic and what he’s been up to.
Eric, you look wonderful! How have you been feeling? How’s your progress?
Physically I feel great. I've been staying busy with therapy at home, since I really can’t go out. Thank God I have the equipment at home to keep up with my therapy; some days are busier than others, but for the most part, I try to do therapy three times a week.
I want to keep my body as strong as possible so if the day comes that I’m able to receive treatment for my injury, I want to make sure I’m as healthy as I can be.
I hear you have a new venture going on. Can you tell me about it?
I've been working on a project—it’s called LeGrand Coffee House. I'm opening up a coffee shop in my hometown. I came up with the idea after being inspired by the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike. At the same time, in a group chat, my friends were sending me pictures of coffee. I was never a coffee guy, but really loving the café vibe, I decided I wanted to create a café in my hometown, all built around bringing people together and unifying people. And there's no better way to do than over a cup of coffee.
So here we are now getting ready for our storefront to open up towards the end of the summer, but our online store is open now so people can try our coffee all throughout the country.
Bryan Cranston, who still keeps in touch with Eric, is a big LeGrand Coffee fan.
Are you still busy with your Team LeGrand foundation, too?
Yes, very much. We're working on another walk this year, a 5k run. It’s called ‘A Walk to Believe.’ Last year was our 10th year doing it.
Last year we raised the most money we ever have. We were able to get participants from all 50 states, two US territories, and 10 countries, which was absolutely amazing. We raised $109,000, so I'm so excited to be able to have a Walk to Believe this year again, and if we can’t do it in person, we’ll do it virtually again.
You are such a positive person and an inspiration to so many. What keeps you going?
I believe I’m here to help people who are struggling or going through some sort of adversity. They look at me as a beacon of hope: if he can do it, I can do it.
They see all the things I have to go through. They may not understand it fully, but they see me living my life. People just get a newfound appreciation on their own life, when they look at all the obstacles I’ve overcome and what I’m doing with everything that’s been thrown my way and they think, “Why can’t I do it?”
I feel like I have a responsibility that I cannot give up on people. So many people are looking up to me believing in me, praying for me, doing whatever they can, for me. How can I give up on them? That’s my reason.
I love your new “Roll Model” clothing line and theme! Can you tell me how that came to be?
My slogan has always been Believe52 (52 was Eric’s number when he played for Rutgers) and we created a line of merchandise with that slogan. But then I started thinking about what people call me. I often hear “inspiration” or “motivator.” And I always hear “role model.”
But I wanted to put a unique twist on it. I’m literally in a wheelchair and I roll around, so I thought of “r-o-l-l” model. Everyone loved it and then my one friend said, “you should make the ‘o’ in the shape of wheelchair wheel.” And that was gold!
I just love it because it really represents me, who I am, my mission, and what I believe in. And people just loved the t-shirts so it just took off and now we offer several items.
As an African-American man, what does it mean to you to be a role model within the Black community?
Being an African American and growing up within an African American community, things are just challenging sometimes. The world isn’t a fair place and we all know that, no matter what your skin color is. But sometimes it's a little bit more unfair if you are an African American.
I want to show people if you do the right things in life, you treat people the right way, you don't look at the color of people’s skin, and you go out there and try and achieve your goals, people will support you. Sure, there will be those who don’t support you no matter what you say or do, but there are many good people out there. And if you go out there and be the best that you can be each and every day, dreams do come true.
If people can see the way I live my life and what I preach each and every day, and how my goal is to unify this country, I think people can be inspired by that and go out there and attack goals and achieve them.
What’s next for you?
I want to continue to grow the coffee business; I want to learn as much as I can. I can't wait to be able to have community events at the coffee shop and bring people together, within the community and through our foundation as well.
I’d like to continue to grow my motivational speaking career. I can’t wait to be able to be in person again, at schools and corporate meetings. Just to be able to connect and share my story with others like I have. I really miss it.
I want to continue to grow my foundation—there's just so much to do. We have to find a cure for paralysis and I’m going to contribute as much as I can to make that happen.
Any last thoughts?
We're all going to be in front of each other again and live our best life. In the meantime, be smart, stay healthy, and wash your hands!