By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
A leader. A fighter. An ambassador. All describe former Penn State Football
student-athlete Adam Taliaferro, who has more than overcome tremendous odds to
thrive after sustaining a career-ending spinal cord injury 16 years ago.
courageous story doesn't simply involve a devastating injury and a miraculous
recovery. Rather, where Taliaferro's story lives on, is within the lives of
those he has been able to change in the years following his own life altering
to September 1, 2001, when Taliaferro, who just 11 months prior had faced the
unthinkable, led the Penn State team on to the field at Beaver Stadium in front
of a record crowd of 109,313 joyous and emotional fans for the season opener
against Miami (Fla.).
that Taliaferro still finds hard to put into words and one his father, Andre, describes,
as a moment where Adam's life had started anew.
The week of
September 23, 2000 was similar to any other game week for the true
freshman cornerback from Voorhees, New Jersey, as the Nittany Lions prepared to
open their Big Ten Conference slate at Ohio State in a nationally televised
contest on ABC.
excitement, Taliaferro was poised to play in one of the biggest games of his
rookie career, playing in front of a packed crowd at Ohio Stadium.
that I got to play was exciting, because for me, coming from South Jersey and
playing in front of five or six thousand people and then playing in a place like
Beaver Stadium or at The Horseshoe out in Columbus, I just remember a lot of
excitement and enthusiasm," Taliaferro said.
routine play near the end of the matchup against the Buckeyes, Taliaferro
recalls tilting his head down as he lunged toward Ohio State's Jerry Westbrooks
to make a tackle he had made nearly 100 times in the past. He suffered a
serious neck injury.
remember the play, I can remember the position of him lying on the field and I
can remember turning to the trainer, George Salvaterra, and saying, 'this is
not a good situation,'" recalls Penn State's Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, who was
among the first to run out on to the field after the impact of Taliaferro's
tackle left him motionless on the field.
move his arm, Taliaferro's first thought was a broken arm. Unable to gather his
legs to get up, his next thought was stinger, a nerve injury in the neck and
heard from other guys that when you get stinger you lose sensation for a little
bit and then it eventually comes back."
As team physicians
and trainers asked Taliaferro a series of questions, he felt no pain as he
correctly answered his name and location, while medical professionals worked
swiftly to provide care that would give him the best chances for recovery.
kind of laid there and they told me not to move and they took me off the field
but the thought of being paralyzed never really went through my head while I
was unable to move on the ground," Taliaferro said.
critical moments after sustaining his injury, Taliaferro was carefully
transported to The Ohio State University Medical Center.
"I knew my
mom (Addie) would be pretty upset and I knew my family was watching on TV, so I
wanted to give a thumbs up," Taliaferro said. "As they were rolling me off the
field and I could not move my hands and I remember thinking this could be kind
where it gets foggy for Taliaferro, though, as he remembers an x-ray before
waking up and seeing the face of his father.
him saying to me, 'you've been injured but you're going to be ok,'" Taliaferro said.
the following Monday, Taliaferro knew from his family that his his injury was
serious, but his family kept the initial prognosis from him -- a prognosis that
included a less than five percent chance that Taliaferro would ever walk again.
to give him every opportunity to get better," Andre said. "We didn't want him
to have to deal with anything negative or anything that would suggest that he
wouldn't get better."
didn't know any better, I just always went into it like I was going to walk out
of it," Adam said.
solely on a full recovery, Adam Taliaferro believed with all his heart from the
very first day of his injury, that he was going to get better.
after his injury, Adam was transferred to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
in Philadelphia, less than 20 miles from his home. Several days later, he was
moved to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia to begin his arduous
little, Taliaferro had to re-learn everything movement-related, with his
largest task in regaining the ability to walk on his own again.
do six hours of therapy a day," Adam said. "My physical therapist became like
my football coach and I just tried to go into every therapy session like I
would go into football practice, where I had to just get a little bit better
the constant support from his family, Taliaferro also drew inspiration from his
coaches, teammates and Penn State Football family and administration, who were
regular visitors throughout his rehabilitation in Philadelphia and later, at
come down every Thursday after practice and they would bring two or three
players and I would see different guys," Taliaferro said. "It was exciting for
me because as I was getting better, I would try every Thursday to show them
that I was doing something new or that I was moving something new."
weeks learning to move a single finger, Taliaferro celebrated every milestone
along the way until major breakthrough presented a turning point.
evening nearly two months into his rehabilitation, Taliaferro's nurse caught
his toe moving and prompted him to attempt to move the toe again. Taliaferro
successfully moved his toe on the next try, signaling hope.
breakthrough called for a celebration, as Taliaferro's parents immediately
returned to the hospital filled with joy, calling as many people as they could
to share the promising news.
that from a medical perspective, once you wiggle a toe, you have about an 85
percent chance of walking so we were very encouraged at that point in time and
literally within weeks he was on his feet," Sebastianelli said.
Having made significant progress in his recovery, Taliaferro incredibly walked
out of Magee Rehabilitation Hospital on crutches on January 6, 2001 and went home,
where he continued his rehabilitation. He returned to State College for the
2001 fall semester, where he would continue to rehab with Nittany Lion athletic
trainers and team physicians, who made him like his regular self again.
Bradley, who was our defensive coordinator and my position coach, made me a
student assistant coach," Taliaferro said. "I was still at all the practices
and all the meetings and I was concerned because I was no longer a football
player, but the coaches, the staff and my teammates still made me feel like I
was an integral part of the team."
September 1, 2001, surrounded by not just those who had directly supported
Taliaferro along the way, but the entire Penn State community, he walked, then
skipped and jogged in leading the Nittany Lions through the Beaver Stadium
gates and on to the field.
culmination of Taliaferro's relentless pursuit to defy the odds, he recalls the
moment as one of the most exciting experiences of his life.
"It felt as
though a mission had been completed," Andre Taliaferro said. "We knew that he
wasn't going to play anymore, but the fact that he had recovered from an
accident on the field and was told that he would never walk again, here he was
and now he was going to start life anew."
Taliaferro was crossing the stage on graduation day, having earned his
undergraduate degree in labor and industrial relations. By 2008, he had earned
his law degree from the Rutgers School of Law-Camden and was off to a
successful career with Bristol-Myers Squibb. In November 2015, he was elected
to his first full two-year term as member of the New Jersey General Assembly
after being appointed to the seat in 10 months earlier. Taliaferro and his wife,
formerly Erin Mulshenock, a Penn State swimmer, also welcomed a new addition to
their family with the birth of their son last year.
the tremendous amount of financial support his family had received due to the severity
of his injury and his rehabilitation, the Adam Taliaferro Foundation was also
born in 2001.
of recovering from a severe spinal cord injury is a lifelong journey. One that
Taliaferro not only embraces on a personal level daily, but one that he
continues to support through his dedication to the Adam Taliaferro Foundation.
and Penn Staters had raised a lot of money for me and my hometown had raised a
lot of money for me and my lifetime care, but thankfully, I didn't need any of
those funds so we came up with the idea that if I don't need it, there are
plenty of people out there who do," Taliaferro said.
mission to help athletes who have suffered devastating spinal cord injuries, the
Foundation provides emotional, financial and educational support to
student-athletes who sustain spinal cord injuries in sanctioned team events
throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
entirely through volunteer support, Taliaferro has been able to give back to
those who gave so much to him along the way.
countless individuals he has been able to impact, Taliaferro recounts being
especially proud to help a high school senior secure the financial support for
a full-time nurse so she could attend college and fulfill her dream to earn a
degree, just like Taliaferro.
little things like that that where we just had a small piece in it, but here's
a young lady who was able to get back to living her life and get an education
although she was paralyzed because we were able to provide a full-time nurse
for her while she was away at college."
Back to living life is exactly where Taliaferro
found himself and where he will continue to have an impact on those who embark
on the same journey as he did.