EVERY STEP is
precious now. Every movement is a gift. Every morning brings another sunrise,
full of sweet promise. When Kevin Everett was a little boy growing up in Port
Arthur, Texas, he would sit with his grandpa James Nico, and the older man
would explain to him life's lessons. One of them was this: Don't ever be
bitter. Just keep doing your best, even when things aren't looking so good.
Even when you are
lying, helpless and twitching, on the floor of a football stadium, unable to
move your limbs and unable to take a deep breath. Even when you drift to the
surface from a deep, chemically induced sleep two days later and find yourself
in a hospital bed, with tubes in your throat and in your groin and machines
beeping in every corner of the room and your mother gently rubbing your
forearm, asking you through her tears, Baby, can you feel this? Please blink
your eyes once if you can feel this. You know I love you, don't you, baby?
Please blink once if you know. And you slowly blink once, though you don't
Even when you're
at a rehabilitation hospital almost a month later and an occupational therapist
puts a tiny, one-pound weight in your right hand and asks you to do one biceps
curl with the same arm that once blocked NFL linebackers on Sunday afternoons.
And you just can't do it. Even when your life is unfathomably changed at the
age of 25. Even then.
Here is Kevin
Everett now, sitting at a breakfast table in a corner of the house the Buffalo
Bills' tight end bought last year for his family in the Houston suburb of
Humble. His fiancée, Wiande Moore, a sprinter whom Kevin met when both were
athletes at the University of Miami, sits to his left, and the two of them pick
at the remnants of supper. His mother, Patricia Dugas, is in the kitchen
putting the finishing touches on a Christmas gingerbread house with Kevin's
youngest sister, Davia, 11. His other two sisters—Herchell, 15, and Kelli,
14—are sitting nearby on family room couches in front of a wall-mounted TV
tuned to MTV but muted because Herchell is tapping out a social studies paper
on her laptop. It is a family place at a family time.
you what," says Kevin. "I'm still trying to figure out everything
that's happened in my life lately. But I don't think anybody has life figured
out. I know you've got to take the good with the bad, and you've got to be
strong. Plain and simple. Just because you get knocked down doesn't mean you've
got to stay down. That's what I feel about all of this. If you get knocked
down, you've got to get back up."
So he gets up. He
rises from his chair and walks easily to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator
and takes out a drink. Then he walks back. Simple as that. And yet not simple
at all. "I'm making strides every day," he says. "Way back when I
was first in the hospital the doctors were saying I might not ever walk again,
and they didn't know the outcome for me moving my limbs anymore. So how much do
I believe about all this? The sky is the limit. I'm going to take this as far
as I can."
It is a beautiful
thing, to see Everett move, a towering victory hidden in workaday acts.
"I'm so proud, I want to bust out and cry every time I look at him,"
says his mother. "All you heard was people saying 'catastrophic injury' and
'never walk again,' and now just you look at him."
ON THE FIRST
weekend of the 2007 NFL season, Everett fell limply to the Ralph Wilson Stadium
turf after making a tackle on the second-half kickoff. He did not get up. The
stadium fell silent, an ambulance drove onto the field, and players from both
teams formed a prayer circle, the nightmare tableau that can unfold in any
football game but is thankfully rare. Everett, a third-year player, had
suffered a fracture dislocation in his neck and severe spinal cord damage. He
would be the subject of grim prognoses (many victims of his injury, indeed, do
not walk again) but also exhaustive and controversial medical care, including
the groundbreaking use of a hypothermia treatment that has both encouraged and
divided the medical community.
after his injury Everett is in the midst of a heartwarming recovery. He walks
unaided at a slow, steady clip for the distance of about half a football field.
(A speedier pace or a longer walk can push him off balance, though that should
be alleviated as his core muscles strengthen.) He can raise his arms above his
head with effort and is gradually recovering the fine motor skills in his hands
and fingertips. He has lost roughly 35 pounds from his playing weight of 260,
but he looks vibrant if, at 6'4", slender. His other bodily functions are
fully intact. Five days a week, four hours a day, he has physical therapy at
The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Memorial Hermann Medical
Center in Houston, calling on a lifetime of athletic training to push
tried to stay positive," he says. "The doctors say sometimes it takes a
long time to come back, if you ever come back. So I kept plugging away, working
hard. And every day there is a little bit more, something that starts coming
back. There haven't been any what I would call milestones. Just