Myron Wright is determined to walk again (cont.)
"I always knew I needed God, my family and my community," he says. "God gives you the faith and your family gives you the motivation. The community gives you the financial support that makes it all possible."
Last May Wright boarded an Amtrak train bound for the West Coast. Since work constraints prevented his parents from making the trip, he was joined by his aunt, Erma Wright, a cousin, Lakeitha Waller, and a swarm of butterflies in his stomach. "Here, I had raised all of this money and had an entire community behind me, but I'm thinking of what will happen if I come back not being able to walk," says Wright. "By the time I got to Arizona I'm thinking I can't tell the train to stop and take me back home."
His nerves didn't subside until he reached California, when he became overwhelmed with another emotion. It was a fresh, rejuvenating feeling, the one he used to experience under bright stadium lights on autumn Friday nights. "In Louisiana football every team's goal is to win a state championship," he says. "If it isn't, then why even play. That's why I looked at my situation (at Project Walk) as a sports situation. If I want to win a championship, I'm going to have to work hard. If I'm going to walk again, I'm going to have to work hard."
Yet it wouldn't be easy. Years of sitting in his wheelchair had stiffened Wright's dormant muscles, making his body resemble his wheelchair. He spent the first month at Project Walk straightening his limbs. That period was the toughest because of the searing pain that went through every inch in his frame. It was almost as if Wright's frozen appendages were thawed. "I did all kinds of stretches and each one felt like I was being stuck with a needle or cut with a knife," he says. "At the same time I knew I had to go through this. I was told that it's good to feel that pain, because some people don't feel that pain at all. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but with my family and community behind me, I was willing to go through that pain."
Physical therapists marveled at Wright's legs. Despite years of inactivity, they maintained the density of telephone poles. It was these legs, the same ones that were once strengthened and toned on the football field, that were responsible for Wright's first breakthrough at Project Walk.
Wright was eventually moved onto the Total Gym and asked to attempt a squat. Much to his astonishment, his legs crunched slightly down and then straightened back up. "It was a pretty powerful (squat), and then Myron did another, and then another," says Margarita Garalyte, the primary therapist who worked with Wright. "I think we got five out of him that day. To get that movement was really exciting and it gave everyone goosebumps."
Wright made the most of his remaining six months at Project Walk, exercising with therapists two hours each morning four days a week. He'd spend two additional hours each day on the clinic's own RT-300 FES bikes. Thanks to a relentless work ethic, Wright eventually regained partial movement in his arms.
While at Project Walk Wright befriended Hal Hargrave Jr., who co-operates The Be Perfect Foundation with the help of his father, Hal Sr. The Be Perfect Foundation is a non-profit company that awards scholarships to patients recovering from spinal chord injuries. The Hargraves granted Wright two additional months at Project Walk.
"My son recommends scholarships based on an individual's approach to recovery, and what my son saw in Myron was someone that was determined," says Hargrave Sr. "He knew Myron wouldn't give up despite the severity of his injury. He thinks that one of these days Myron will be out of his chair, and so do I."
The town of Thibodaux also believes. When Wright came home last November, a multitude of fundraisers had been lined up to pay for a return trip to California (set for Aug.18). Less than two weeks after his arrival, he received a $40,000 donation from Elton Darsey, a former attorney from neighboring Houma (La.) who died at the age of 100 on Nov. 26, 2008. Wright used the money to pay for his rehabilitation bike (which costs $20,000) and earmarked the remainder for Project Walk. "It feels good to see that some people seem want it even more than you," Wright says.
The Wright's Thibodaux home is small but clean and well-manicured. It's located in a lower-income community that's a short walk from government housing. Police regularly battle crime and the occasional gunshot can be heard thundering across the muggy skyline. It's here where Wright pedals. The blank walls and concrete floor in the laundry room provide little source for inspiration, but Wright doesn't need sumptuous surroundings to stimulate his motivation.
"I was on my bike the other day asking myself, 'When are you going to give up, Myron? When are you going to quit?'" he says. "Stressing about something like my situation is the one thing that can kill your chances. You have to tell yourself that you can beat this, and that's how you overcome it."
Wright says he is thinking about parlaying his life experiences and football acumen into a coaching career. He envisions one day returning to the gridiron that temporarily took his arms and legs, but will only consider it as long as he's able to run with his players during practice. "If I ever give up, my family is going to get depressed and give up, and so will the community," Wright says. "I hope to inspire a lot of people, other people like me who have been through the same thing, people who are waiting to see someone walk again. I want to beat this."
Should he succeed, Wright will draw satisfaction in being able to finally reach out and physically touch some of the people he loves. In the meantime, he continues to touch the lives of everyone he meets.
"If you want something in life, you have to go get it," Wright says. "People won't try to help you if they don't see you working hard. Everything takes time, but in the end hard work pays off. In the end, I will walk."
Donations can be made to the Myron Wright Foundation, P.O. Box 5150, Thibodaux, La. 70302