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Posted: Wednesday July 22, 2009 9:18AM; Updated: Wednesday July 22, 2009 9:18AM
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After a freak injury, Myron Wright is determined to walk again

Story Highlights

Former high school football player Myron Wright has one goal: to walk again

Wright plans on returning to Project Walk on Aug. 18

The Thibodaux community has raised close to $100,000 for Wright

By Chris Scarnati, Special to SI.com

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Myron Wright was a promising high school football player before a spinal injury in 2002 left him paralyzed and unable to walk.
Courtesy of Myron Wright

THIBODAUX, La. -- Myron Wright bears little resemblance to Lance Armstrong as he pedals away on his RT-300 FES bike. The setting -- his family's laundry room -- is thousands of miles from the undulating terrain of the French Alps and the Tour de France. But the 22-year-old quadriplegic has become a cycling stalwart since purchasing the specialized rehabilitation apparatus. The bike operates on its own engine and partially forces Wright's arms and legs forward, increasing blood circulation and reducing muscle atrophy.

In many ways it's an instrument of hope, a source of inspiration that Wright has clung to since sustaining a freak spinal chord injury in a high school football game for Thibodaux High more than six years ago.

"I love riding this thing," says Wright, slowly rotating his calves. "It returns my movement. I average 14 miles a day on the legs and two-and-half miles a day on the arms."

Rather than languish in a wheelchair, Wright chooses to spend long and grueling hours in his makeshift workout facility, which sits near an old washing machine, dryer and water heater. His equipment includes a Total Gym for squat exercises and a padded table to stretch and rotate his limbs. He grits his teeth and visualizes a brighter future, one that involves putting on his own clothes, taking a shower by himself and returning hugs to members of his family -- one of the things he misses most. "To be honest, I've never really had a breakdown or questioned why my accident happened to me," Wright says. "I have gotten frustrated plenty of times, but never overly depressed about my situation. Things happen for a reason, and I have never even once thought about giving up."

Nor has his community. While searching Google in May 2007 from his voice-activated laptop, Wright came across the Web site of Project Walk, a renowned treatment program in Carlsbad (Calif.) that specializes in rehabilitating people with spinal chord injuries. With the support of his family, which extends well over 50 people, and the philanthropic contributions of friends and strangers, Wright raised the funds needed to spend six months at the clinic at the end of 2008.

He returned to Thibodaux last November feeling renewed and reinvigorated. "I actually did a squat at a 45-degree angle out there," Wright says. "I was shocked and emotional, but I didn't show it. I couldn't move for more than five years, but then I finally did again. I knew then that it was attainable. Now I can finally see it."

He is determined to walk again, but that vision wasn't always as clear.

*****

Wright entered his sophomore season at Thibodaux High with a steadiness beyond his 16 years. At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, he was heralded as the future of the Tigers football program. Despite being an underclassman, Wright was talented enough to see varsity action at wide receiver.

"We had some good players, but Myron was going to be one of those great athletes that came through our program," says former Thibodaux football coach Shawn Preston. "He could jump, catch and run really fast, and he had the attitude to go with it. You have to have all of those skills and a little swagger to go over the top, and Myron had all of those things."

On the night of Nov. 8, 2002, Wright expected to watch an entire game from the sideline. Even though his team faced H.L. Bourgeois in an important matchup that had playoff implications, Wright had amassed three tardy slips earlier in the week and Preston planned to punish him by sitting him out.

The plan changed when the Tigers lined up for a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown early in the third quarter. Trailing 7-6, Preston wanted a player to come out for the next play and scrambled to find a replacement. Amidst the confusion, Preston spotted Wright and sent him onto the field.

The next sequence has been replayed in Wright's mind as if it was shown on a continuous loop. The ball is snapped, handed off and fumbled. Wright puts himself into position to block an opposing defender attempting to pounce on the football. He is then pushed from behind with his head down into an oncoming player, creating a collision that appears awkward but relatively innocuous.

Wright lies on the field. He's confused. Afraid. Motionless.

"In reality, it wasn't too hard of a hit," he says. "It's not like I blacked out or anything. I just fell down and couldn't move. It felt like my legs were pointed up in the air and I was floating a little bit."

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