An excellent story by Jay Weaver at The Miami Herald.
“Woody” Beckham had played football and lacrosse at Gulliver Prep, so the rock-solid youth knew he was tough enough to play rugby when his friends encouraged him to join Florida Atlantic University’s intramural team.
His first game, however, would be his last.
“This 300-pound guy was running with the ball right at my head,” Beckham, 22, said, recalling FAU’s game in late January against the University of Miami on the Coral Gables campus.
“When I tackled him, I knew immediately my neck was broken because I lost all feeling in my body.”
On Monday, he may have been sitting in a wheelchair — paralyzed from the chest down — but the blond, blue-eyed Beckham moved a roomful of relatives, friends and therapists to smiles and tears at the Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital, where he spent a couple of months after his rugby injury.
With his father, Bill, at his side, James “Woody” Beckham celebrated the family’s donation of $20,000 to the rehab hospital — money raised from a summer tournament to reduce the population of Lionfish, an invasive species, in the Bahamas. The donation will go toward new therapeutic equipment to help thousands of patients like Beckham adapt to everyday life.
“Everyone in this room has helped me out in a huge way,” said Beckham, of Coral Gables. “I can’t thank all of you enough.”
Since his spinal cord injury on Jan. 29, Beckham has spent much of his life at Jackson Memorial Hospital, starting with surgery by Dr. Michael Wang. After his operation, he was eventually moved to the rehab hospital, where occupational therapist Janet Dallas and recreational therapist Kelly Messett helped strengthen his fine motor skills so he could balance himself, eat food and take care of personal hygiene.
“I’ve regained a lot of strength in my hands and fingers,” said Beckham, who now attends therapy sessions three times a week, while living at home with his parents and taking night classes at Miami-Dade College.
He has drawn inspiration not only from the rehab facility, but also from its community outings. Among the activities: Learning to operate his wheelchair, riding the Metro Rail and, best of all, swimming with dolphins.
Beckham said he was so grateful for what the therapists taught him that he wanted to give something back. So he teamed up with his longtime family friend, David Mills, a senior at Gulliver Pre in Pinecrest, to develop the Longfish fund-raising project.
As it were, Mills had already been working on the event as a community service project. But after he learned of Beckham’s spinal cord injury, the two friends joined forces with Beckham’s father and other supporters to stage the Lionfish Bash at the Bimini Sands Resort & Marina in July.
“After Woody’s injury, it gave me a reason and that much more motivation to do it,” Mills said.
He said the participants in the tournament used fishing spears — without guns — to kill 300 of the invasive species, which destroy coral reefs.
The event raised $20,000 for Beckham’s nonprofit group, the Woody Foundation. It donated half of the money to the rehab hospital to buy: hand-cycle machines, neuro-stem devices, iPads and aquatic equipment, among other gifts.
The hospital can use the other half of the money for miscellaneous services.
“This is what Woody wanted to do for us,” said Messett, who, by coincidence, is also a graduate of Gulliver Prep. “We can spread the money around for our entire team to help all of the patients.”
Beckham’s father, Bill, said Jackson has been a godsend his son, who has gone from “laying on his back” to “balancing himself in his wheelchair” to “attending night classes at Miami-Dade College.”
“It’s all about adapting to life again,” said his father.
As he continues his therapy, Beckham said his goal is to obtain an accounting or finance degree from FAU or Florida International Univesity.
Said Beckham: “I’m trying to move ahead and do the best I can do.”