It could happen to anyone.
Young or old, freak accidents happen all the time. The difference is when those freak accidents hit home.
Twenty-nine-year-old Drew Graham was no exception. Graham, an assistant track and field coach, was a recent victim of an accident in which his life was put in jeopardy after a swimming accident left him with a shattered vertebra and the possibility of never walking again.
The road to recovery has been long and difficult. Hours of rehabilitation have taken a toll on Graham and his family who flew in from England to be with him.
“As I woke up in ICU, I saw my parents and my brother who had flown out immediately as soon as they heard of my accident,” Graham said. “They told me they were going to be with me for five weeks which was amazing to hear and lifted my spirits. As well as my parents being there, my wife Laura has been a huge support and has stayed by my bedside almost every night since the accident. ACU alums have also been fantastic. Several visited me when I was still in ICU.”
Originally, Graham was hospitalized in Aurora, Colorado, where he underwent a six-hour surgery to stabilize him and correct the broken vertebrae. He spent 17 days at The Medical Center of Aurora before being moved to his current location in Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, where he is receiving treatment for spinal cord and brain injuries.
“At the moment, I’m still in the early stages of recovery, so I’m still having a lot of treatments,” he said. “For example, I have breathing treatments every four hours, but hopefully they’ll be finished soon. I also do physical therapy and occupational therapy everyday. The past week, I’ve started using a special piece of machinery called a functional electrical stimulation bike, which uses electrical stimulation to help me work out my legs since I can’t use them myself.”
The reaction on campus to the news of Graham’s accident was one of disbelief.
Faculty, staff, fellow coaches and athletes could not comprehend that an accident of this magnitude had happened to someone who held a special place in so many people’s hearts. Keith Barnier, track and field head coach, and other ACU officials visited Graham after they got word of what happened.
Like most things in life, there has been a silver lining that has come forth through this tragedy.
“You hate to see that it has to be something like this to bring people closer to together,” Barnier said. “Everybody’s stronger because of that. The team is closer. Spiritually, we’ve become a better team. You find out how everybody cares. Everybody cares for Drew Graham. He did that on his own. That was all him. He made all those people he’s met since he’s been here care. This is when you find out who cares.”
Graham is confident he will walk again and eventually become the runner that brought him to America. His drive and determination are two of the many things that make Graham special on and off the track. But, as much determination as he has in himself, he shares that same quality for other people around him.
Keegan Calmes, a friend and former teammate of Graham’s in England, has seen this trait in Graham throughout their entire friendship.
“What sets Drew apart is his demeanor, of course,” Calmes said. “But there is something even more gravitational about Drew Graham than anything I can explain. He believes in the people around him endlessly. Even if someone fails his expectations, he continues to believe in them. It’s almost inevitable that they succeed because they want to live up to his belief in them.”
The road to recovery will be difficult. The challenges will be unprecedented. But Graham is ready to face every day with a positive attitude and take each victory, no matter how small, with thankfulness and eagerness to continue to get better.
“I know that I have hundreds of people praying for me and, I don’t envision myself in a wheelchair for more than the short to medium term,” Graham said. “I pray everyday that my legs start working again, and I know in my heart that they will; these thing just take time. Every spinal cord injury is different, but I know people with similar injuries have made full recoveries and I know I will too. The average recovery time for spinal cord injury is around 18 months, so I know I need to be patient. This is an ultra-marathon rather than an 800 meters.”