COLUMN: What we can all learn from the CJ Donaldson crash | Tuesday News

MORGANTOWN — It was, as everyone agreed in the hours after watching West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson lying motionless on the football field in Austin, Texas on Saturday night, a scary moment.

“It was terrifying,” catcher Bryce Ford-Wheaton said. “One moment you’re playing with him, and the next he’s on a stretcher.”

“I just hope for the best, hope he’s okay and just pray for my brother,” running back Justin Johnson Jr said. “It’s scary when you see something like that.”

This Monday morning, the news was not catastrophic and was welcomed by all, that apparently Donaldson suffered nothing worse than a concussion.

“CJ is doing well and is in our concussion protocol under the supervision of our medical staff,” WVU coach Neal Brown announced Monday morning.

Not that a concussion earned from being tackled and taking a knee to the head that knocks you unconscious is a minor injury, but it could have been much worse.

We had our own thoughts when he fell in a game that had already fallen apart for the Mountaineers…visions and prayers flowing throughout the stadium and across the country. Her mother, Neal Brown, noted that she wasn’t at the game and one can only wonder what was going through her mind at the moment.

In a way, it was a moment of horror for me too, because I knew too closely and personally how dangerous football could be.

It can be devastating…or it can lead from the promise of a life without mobility to a life that shows that anything can be overcome.

This, you see, is a story of triumph over tragedy.

The year was 1959, a preseason scrimmage between my high school, Dwight Morrow in Englewood, NJ, and Lyndhurst, NJ It was halfway through the scrimmage and I was in my usual spot, slumped on the floor after being crushed by a taller, stronger and faster offensive lineman.

As I lay there, about 15 feet away, lay the ball carrier down. As we all got up, we noticed that he hadn’t moved at all.

I would later learn that his name was Ronnie Cannella. He was a senior safety and had just made the tackle on Ray Chrzanowski. The players began to gather and Cannella coach Ed Zack rushed onto the field. When I arrived, I heard Ronnie Cannella say:

” Do not touch me ; I am paralyzed.

While I remember the scene vividly, my memory was jolted by a column I wrote for the high school newspaper, of which I was also a sports editor, more than a month later.

That was now 63 years ago so things were slower then and in the column I noted that it took half an hour for an ambulance to arrive from a hospital that didn’t Wasn’t more than a mile or two away, but there were no cell phones in those days.

Eventually they arrived and the same scene we saw play out last Saturday night played out this August afternoon.

At the hospital, X-rays revealed (there were no MRIs at the time) that Cannella had suffered fractures to the fifth and sixth vertebrae, the result of which eventually became paralysis from the chest down. low and that he had limited use of his arms.

When it was allowed to receive visitors, I went there. As I wrote then, “I expected to find a boy who felt really sorry for himself, who felt that the world had come to an end. But that was not the situation; indeed, Ronnie was full of spirit and seemed to be coping well with his accident.

After that, of course, we broke up, me at the University of Missouri and my life and him… well, I didn’t know, but whenever things like CJ Donaldson’s injury happened, I thought of him and wondered what happened.

Monday morning, I decided to find out if I could. We have Google now and a search led me to find that he lived a full, inspiring life until August 3, 2017 when he passed away at age 74.

How inspiring was that? His wife, Connie, summed it up in full view of high school alumni after his death with this tribute:

“We would never know that we are called to rise, and if we stick to our plans, our future will reach heaven.” – Emily Dickinson.

“It was in high school English class that I learned this quote 53 years ago. Fifty-nine years ago, a high school student’s life changed dramatically in an instant during a football game. football in high school. At the time, Emily Dickinson’s quote would become a living example in this young boy’s life.

“I’m Ron 15 years after he became disabled, back when he was interning in psychology, where I was working at NYU’s rehabilitation institute. Without the support of his parents and siblings , it would have been impossible for him to get to that point, and not just because they were his primary means of transportation to college, graduate school, and that internship program.

“After achieving these goals, he was finally able to learn to drive and become independent, which was not very common for people with disabilities at the time.

“At the time I met Ron, he was president of Disabled in Action, a small group of people with disabilities who were about to make New Jersey history by enacting the first-ever accessibility laws. for the first 15 years after his accident, his stature had begun to increase.

“We all know Ron in a different role, as husband, father, parent, friend. We’ve seen him give in different ways, to his career, to his community, and more. We have seen him endure, with grace and courage, the many setbacks his body has given him and he has continued to soar to new heights after each one. .

“Each of us has our own stories that could be a chapter in a book about us, describing the courage and perseverance we have shown during those 59 years of living with a limiting physical disability, but my 43 years of living with him can at least fill a trilogy, so with our memories of how he touched our lives, let’s celebrate his life, as we recognize him despite adversity.

“We would never know that we are called to rise, and if we stick to our plans, our future will reach heaven.”

CJ Donaldson can live his life from here knowing how lucky he was, but we can all learn from this incident that happened a long time ago that no matter how much adversity may befall you, you can give back. your meaningful and fruitful life.

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