Far from NFL's bright lights, paralyzed players carry on Print
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Tuesday, 11 September 2007 12:03
NFL Headline News

 Chris Canales doesn't blame the game. Has every right to, but doesn't.
``I love football,'' he said. ``Getting to meet the pros and watch them play is great fun.''
Canales used to play himself. Was pretty good at it, too, making all conference as a defensive back and receiving three scholarship offers from colleges who wanted him to be a punter.
One tackle wiped those dreams away. One tackle nearly took his life away.
It came on Nov. 2, 2001, in the fourth quarter in the final regular season game of his career at San Marcos Baptist Academy. Just another routine tackle until the running back tried to leap over Canales and his hip collided with the top of Canales' helmet.
Lying on the field, Canales asked the emergency medical technicians what was wrong.
They didn't answer. They didn't need to.
``I knew right away something was wrong,'' Canales said. ``Once you try to get up and can't move, you know something is wrong.''
Canales watches football from a wheelchair these days, paralyzed from the shoulders down. He was watching with more than just a passing interest Sunday when Kevin Everett crumpled to the field after making a tackle for the Buffalo Bills.
``It's something you don't like to see, but it happens,'' Canales said. ``It's a contact sport.''
Everett's injury is big news because he plays in the NFL and professional football is the most watched sport in the country. Video clips of his tackle have been shown repeatedly, and the media will report every development, just as we did with Darryl Stingley and Mike Utley before him.
The Buffalo Bills will no doubt provide him with the best of care, and there likely will be a day in the not-so-distant future when he wheels into Ralph Wilson Stadium to accept the cheers of thousands of fans.
There aren't many cheers in Schertz, Texas, where Canales lives with his parents. His father, Eddie, quit his job to take care of his son full time, a day that usually begins about 7:30 a.m. and doesn't end until 3 the next morning when he's finally able to grab a few hours sleep.
The elder Canales shares the details of what it is like to take care of a paralyzed son, not because he is looking for sympathy but because he wants people to know how difficult life can be for a quadriplegic.
Chris Canales nearly died twice in the hospital, and once again after coming home. He fell into a deep depression as the reality of his new life sank in.
In a split-second he went from glory to a life where he can't even control his bodily functions and must depend on others to do the simplest of tasks.
The Bills will be there for Everett. The same usually can't be said for those injured on high school fields.
``The difference is that the Bills organization will take care of this young man and help provide,'' Eddie Canales said. ``On the high school level that is not necessarily true. They tend to be forgotten after they graduate while the families are devastated and have to live with the injury and array of medical problems that come with this.''
Father and son are trying to do something about that. After attending a game where another high school player was paralyzed a year after Canales' injury, they founded a nonprofit organization called Gridiron Heroes to help players and their families cope with the aftermath of their injuries.
They began with two heroes in 2003. Since that time, 12 other high school players have been paralyzed in games in Texas alone.
Eddie Canales hustles to raise money, but it's still a shoestring operation. He and his son have managed to get wheelchair-accessible vehicles for three of the injured, and Chris Canales laughs when he remembers the good times when he and other paralyzed players went to a Houston Texans game and a Dallas Cowboy practice.
Once a month they all get $100 gift cards to Wal-Mart to help with the things the state doesn't cover, like gloves, wet wipes and diapers.
Most of all they try to give the players and their families some hope for the future.
``We try to provide inspiration and hope,'' Eddie Canales said. ``With this type of injury, hope is always taken away.''
Hope is what keeps both father and son going. It's been nearly six years since the injury, and they count progress in small steps.
Chris can now feed himself, brush his teeth and comb his hair. Just recently he celebrated being able to transfer himself from his wheelchair into a regular chair and back.
His father, though, still worries. Pneumonia is always a threat, and the smallest thing can set off a downward spiral for the paralyzed.
Chris turns 24 next month and he's looking ahead to the future, something that might have seemed impossible before.
To his father's delight, he has a goal once again.
``My goal is to walk again, though I don't know how long it is going to take,'' he said. ``Once you give up, that's it. I'm going to go out and get them. I'm going to fight for it.''
On the Net:
Gridiron Heroes: http://www.gridironheroes.org
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org.

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