WEST ORANGE — The customized van with the No. 52 rims pulls up in front of Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and the door opens. A ramp is lowered and the 270-pound man uses a mouthpiece to direct his motorized wheelchair toward the door.
Eric LeGrand emerges, wearing a “Team LeGrand” t-shirt and the wide smile that seemingly never leaves his face. As LeGrand rolls down the walkway and into the rehab facility, a woman stops him. She recognizes LeGrand from his many media appearances and asks if she can take a picture.
It’s not an uncommon request for the man who has become the face of paralysis in the wake of the spinal cord injury he suffered while making a tackle in a Rutgers football game in October 2010. As always, LeGrand graciously stops and flashes his signature smile for the photo with the stranger.
“It just shows that people are still reading my story and hearing about me,” LeGrand says. “The place that I work out at and they stop me and ask for a picture, it’s pretty cool to see that it’s been four and a half years and people are still supporting me.”
As much as others have supported LeGrand, the 24-year-old Avenel native is equally committed to helping victims of spinal cord injuries. That’s why he’ll host the fifth annual “A Walk to Believe” on Sunday morning at High Point Solutions Stadium.
The majority of the money raised by the walk, which will include a 5K run for the first time this year, goes to fund spinal cord research through Team LeGrand of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Smaller percentages benefit the Believe Fund, which was created by Rutgers to support LeGrand’s recovery, and Rutgers’ spinal cord injury project.
LeGrand’s sights are set even higher after the walk raised $65,000 last year.
“I’m trying to raise more money for the cause,” LeGrand says. “My personal goal is to hit $100,000 between registrations, private donors and sponsors. I’m just trying to raise as much money as I can for this cause to try to find a cure for paralysis.”
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