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We All Should Aspire to Live Like Dennis Byrd

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2011 AFC Championship: New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

It is a simple act. Most of us do it thousands of times each day without thinking. It is so routine that we take it for granted.

NFL players dazzle us with their incredible athleticism.

Yet it was performing this simplest of acts on January 21, 1993, that made Dennis Byrd an inspiration. He walked.

Of course, the circumstances were very different from the ones you and I have when we walk each day. Dennis Byrd had been seriously injured during a football game just a few months earlier, and it was unclear whether he would ever be able to walk again.

Over the last 24 hours I have done a lot of thinking about Dennis Byrd. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say turning on the TV these days can be distressing. Frequently you see prominent people not only be poor role models but seem to revel in the fact they are poor role models. You wonder whether there are any heroes left.

Dennis Byrd was a hero. I am sad to say that I never had the pleasure of meeting the man personally, but I know he was a hero. He was because he performed that simple act of walking again. Then he was one for the next 24 or so years of his life because of the way he dedicated himself to helping others. He repaid the kindness showed to him by Leon Hess and others in his time of need. He took the worst moment of his life, and turned it into a galvanizing moment to make the world better.

I hope we can all learn the lessons Dennis taught us and apply them to our lives.

We spend a lot of time here breaking down football. We talk about the odds of something happening, and that’s fine. That’s what we’re here to do.

Just don’t let your real life be defined by odds. Believe in yourself. Believe good things will happen. Odds are odds. You’re unique. You will beat them if you believe you will.

If you are feeling down, know that things will get better. If you feel like you can’t take it anymore, talk to somebody. If you don’t have anybody to talk to, please talk to me. I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of you in person. I have crossed paths with many more online. Still I know there are many more who know me from reading what I have to say, but I have not personally encountered yet. Just know that I care about you and that things will get better.

Be good to others. It’s important. If somebody does something nice for you, remember how that makes you feel, and do nice things for others. It will make the world better.

Finally, don’t ever give up. It is a tragedy that Dennis Byrd only got roughly 24 extra years after his accident, but he also knew those 24 years were a gift. It showed through the way he lived. He fought hard to get everything he could out of that time. A few years ago I was chatting with a friend who told me he regretted not following his dream of becoming a journalist. I asked why he didn’t do it. He was married, thinking of starting a family, and had a steady job. It would be irresponsible to quit and take a low level dues paying journalism job. He was right about that part. He shouldn’t quit his job. He could, however, try and land a side gig as a reporter for a community newspaper, take a class, start a blog, or do any number of things to keep his dream alive. Figure out what you want to do in life, and every day try and take a step forward to making that a reality, even if you aren’t in a position to jump in with both feet today.

Dennis Byrd taught us these things, and it is up to all of us to learn the lessons he taught us about life.

I hope you all can find the strength to make the most of your life and bring joy to others the way Dennis Byrd did.