Khaliq Gant goes to basketball practice, works out and travels to away games with the Cornell basketball team, but you won't see him suiting up this year. And he's not upset about that.
Two years ago, Gant was an up-and-coming sophomore guard, playing 14 minutes per game for the Big Red.
On Jan. 21, 2005, Cornell suffered a 58-57 loss to Columbia on a three at the buzzer. The next Tuesday, he and his teammates were practicing hard to bounce back from the tough defeat.
But he that week went from tough to life-altering.
"During a rebound drill, I had just made a bad play before, so I was really going all out to get the ball for this next rebounding drill," Gant said.
"I dove for a loose ball that I wouldn't [otherwise] be able to get and my teammate hit me from behind. Immediately I was paralyzed."
His teammate, now-junior Adam Gore, remembers that everyone just thought he was hurt. But they didn't realize the extent.
"As a team we kind of just huddled up and said our prayers for him," Gore said.
Gant was given steroids and airlifted to a hospital, where he underwent a seven-hour surgery to repair the dislocation of the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. A plate as well as bone from his hip was inserted into his neck.
Next came the toughest part. After he was transferred to a facility in his hometown of Atlanta, Gant didn't get around-the-clock attention. He spent the first night alone since his injury. Boredom was the least of his worries.
"You normally toss and turn at night, and I obviously wasn't able to do that, so I would end up in uncomfortable positions. Then the nurse would come in at all times of the night to take your blood pressure, so I probably didn't sleep for two or three weeks. It was a lot of laying in bed, just thinking."
The original prognosis was that he would never be able to walk again. Gant remained optimistic, and after two and a half months of complete paralysis, he began the rehabilitation process.
First, he had to start with the basics.
"I was just starting from the beginning, like a baby, trying to re-learn everything," Gant said.
"I had occupational as well as physical therapy. I was learning how to kneel, lay down and stand up - and also learning how to write and eat and simple things like that. They're simple now, but back then they were very tough."
After some progress in learning everyday tasks, he headed to a 9-to-5 rehab facility. Gant started on a treadmill with a harness and built his strength and coordination from there.
It was a daunting task.
"It was hard coordinating; my balance wasn't good. I would break out into a sweat just walking on a treadmill," Gant said.
"I treated it like practicing for basketball. If you really struggle with your left hand, it's frustrating, but if you're working at it and working at it, it finally clicks.
"That's when I realized I was going to be okay. I was making great strides in order to be able to walk around again."
After rehabbing all summer, the pieces began to come together, and he was soon able to move around with the assistance of a cane. He was able to return to Cornell after missing just one semester.
He could walk, but getting around campus was tough. According to his blog on campusword.com, he often fell. One time he was in a bar when a fight broke out and someone mistook him for the aggressor, throwing him on the ground.
Since then, however, he has found it easier to walk the hilly Cornell campus, and he's moved onto bigger and better goals.
His arms, shoulders and back were the weakest parts of his body, and getting a shot up for the first time was a major milestone. He still is far from doing what he wants to accomplish.
"I'm really trying to be able to run and jump now - that's what's still lacking," Gant said. "My ultimate goal is to be able to play basketball again."
Stepping onto the court to shoot around has been a thrill for him, but watching the basketball team play every day isn't easy.
"I'm still dealing with that now," Gant said. "I see the guys at practice and I miss it, but I'm glad that I'm able to walk around and support the team - it's bittersweet."Comments powered by Disqus
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