Former Philadelphia Eagle Kevin Reilly speaks to Williamstown special-needs students
(taken from nj.com)
MONROE TWP. — High school students often look to professional athletes as the pinnacles of American success — examples of hard work and dedication that shine in the public eye.
Posters of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Derek Jeter don the walls in homes of admiring teenagers who imitate the signature moves of these superstars in an attempt to excel at their own respective sports.
But for one Williamstown High School special-needs class, the story of a Philadelphia Eagles special-teams player from the 70s was more inspiring than that of any player who might have scored a game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
It started with Chrissy Carew’s book “Insightful Player,” which highlights athletes who overcame overwhelming odds just for a chance to play in the NFL. Stacy Zentz’s class of students with cognitive impairment issues had been reading the book.
The story of one player, former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Kevin Reilly, resonated with the students. Contacted by Zentz, Carew jumped at the opportunity to have Reilly speak with the students about reaching their own goals in life.
Thursday’s visit to Williamstown High was the first time she’s run an event like this since authoring the book.
in 1973, Reilly — who is now a radio announcer for the Eagles on WYSP and WDEL — was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of the NFL draft before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he served as captain of the special-teams unit.
After spending two years with the Eagles and one with the Patriots, Reilly was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor, a rare form of cancer that effectively ended his career in the NFL. He lost his left arm, a portion of his left shoulder and several ribs as a result of the tumor.
Speaking to the class on Thursday, Reilly described how he had to relearn even the simplest tasks, eventually learning how to tie his shoes, jog, and even tie a tie.
“They’re people who told me I would never be able to do any of that,” said Reilly. “I started having serious thoughts about how I was spiraling down.”
He said it was the words of former Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier that inspired him to prove wrong both his doctors and his friends.
Bleier, who had suffered severe injuries to his legs while serving in the Vietnam War, rehabilitated his legs for two years to eventually become a four-time Super Bowl winner and a starting running back for the Steelers during the 70s.
Reilly said he used Bleier’s success as a model for his own as he taught himself things like how to tie his shoes and cut his food with one hand.
“I know a lot of people will set the bar very low for you and say ‘You can’t do this. You can’t do that,’ ” said Reilly, addressing the class of special-needs kids.
But, he added, “The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.”
As he told the students how he learned to deal with the fact that people would look at him differently, eventually learning to become more openly friendly with passers-by who would stare at the empty sleeve waving freely beside him, Carew said she relished the opportunity to bring the students someone like Reilly to look up to.
Carew, whose father was head coach of the a local Massachusetts high school football team, the Concord-Carlisle Patriots, wants to bring the message of good coaching to more than just professional sports teams. She wants to reach students in need of help to follow their dreams into adulthood.
“Growing up, I had football players in and out of my house every day,” said Carew. “One day, I had this insight thinking ‘Boy, where would everyone be if everyone in the world had a coach?’ ”
Now she works as a life coach, and her network of life coaches across the country are looking to offer their services to students and other children in need of direction in order to continue following their dreams into a satisfactory and successful adulthood.
“My vision is that every child has a coach,” said Carew, adding that she will offer seven students from the high school free coaching for three months if their parents are interested.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Carew’s father was a head coach for a high school football team, the Concord-Carlisle Patriots and not the professional football team, the New England Patriots.