September 25, 2004 was the perfect Saturday afternoon to play high school football. The sun was shining, and the weather was beautiful. I was super excited for the game because it was against the powerhouse, Georgetown Prep. It was also the first game of the season I would be playing without a club to protect my broken left hand, an injury I suffered earlier that year in practice.
Now to the game…I had just scored a touchdown and we were up on the scoreboard. In fact, we were beating them pretty soundly. After kicking the ball off, our defense quickly ran on the field, and I took my post as the safety in the back. Channeling my inner Ed Reed, whom I modeled my game after, I could see the play developing. BAMM! off I went like an Olympic sprinter leaving the starting block…I shot the gap. CRACK…. the sound of two bodies clashing against each other. Most people heard the sound of shoulders pads and helmets colliding, but what I heard was different….” Got damn it I broke another bone!”
I knew I had broken something because I had previously broken 10 bones, but this time was different. This time my entire body was tingling…that tingling feeling you get when a body part falls asleep. Despite that, I wasn’t worried because in football we called that a stinger, which usually occurred when you hit a limb in an uncomfortable way. I thought to myself, “I’m going to lay here for a few seconds and then get up.” Finally, “Get up Van, get up” I said to myself trying to move.
At that moment something strange began to happen. Staring at the bright blue sky, I started to feel like I was levitating. Shortly after I could see our athletic training kneeling next to me with a panicked expression on his face that I’d never seen before. Next, I could hear my mother’s quivering voice frantically inquire about what happened to her baby, and my big cousin crying, "get up Brooks". I couldn't see them but hearing the tone of their voices began to worry me. “Why are they on the field? This must be serious", I thought to myself. As the trainer quickly began running test and asking me if I could feel him touching and moving my arms, FEAR kicked in. The kid who used to flex on his dad to show his physique was laying helpless on the field. I really did it this time!
Once the ambulance arrived, I was in full panic mode. I was extremely confused. "Why can't I get up? I've broken bones before, but I've always gotten back up". As they removed the face mask from my helmet and strapped me to a stretcher, I heard something no athlete wants to hear. Somewhere in the distance two people were talking and I heard one of them say, “he has broken his neck”.
“No way that can be true…when you break your neck you die and I’m still here,” I thought. I then heard a helicopter…” What are they here for? For me"? Yup they were. Now I’ve always wanted to fly but not like this. Definitely not for my first time.
Once I was loaded into the State Trooper chopper, the last thing I remember is having my cloths cut off before passing out. Waking up in Shock Trauma I was informed that I, in fact, did break my neck in two places, which left me paralyzed from the neck down and I had received emergency surgery to save my life…I was 16 years old…