Eric LeGrand, a former Rutgers University defensive tackle, was left paralyzed from the neck down after colliding with an Army football player during a game in October 2010

By Jason Duaine Hahn
May 21, 2021 03:42 PM
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Eric LeGrand knows what it takes to rebuild your life.

The former Rutgers University defensive tackle was left paralyzed from the neck down after colliding with an Army football player during a game in October 2010.

But since the life-changing moment, LeGrand has published a memoir, earned a Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPYs, and launched a fundraising arm — called Team LeGrand — with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. It's a remarkable story of determination, and he's still ready for more.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, LeGrand tells PEOPLE he read Nike founder Phil Knight's memoir, Shoe Dog, which recounts how he founded the iconic sportswear company out of Oregon.

LeGrand says the book gave him the courage to try something he had never considered before — opening his own business.

His eventual idea, LeGrand Coffee House, launched its online shop in January, and its first physical location will open its doors later this year in Woodbridge, New Jersey, LeGrand's hometown.

Eric LeGrand
Credit: Mark R. Sullivan/Home News Tribune/AP Photo

It's been a wild turn of events for LeGrand, who said he only tried his first cup of coffee last August.

"I didn't know anything about coffee back, you can say a year ago from now," he tells PEOPLE. "But I'll tell you what, after I came up with the idea in July and August, I educated myself, I learned as much as possible, been through the ups and downs at the beginning of entrepreneurship, learning this and that."

"But it's been a fun journey so far," he adds. "We haven't even been a year even into the idea, but it's been special."

Before his accident, LeGrand had a career roadmap all planned out — he wanted to enter the NFL, then serve as a sports broadcaster once his playing days were over.

It was difficult to realign those ambitions after the accident, but neccesary.

"You got to now focus on how to be able to live a quality of life that you enjoy," LeGrand said he told himself after he became paralyzed. "You're 20 years old. You don't want to be miserable forever because this one play happened to you."

His family and friends, LeGrand explains, played a significant part in reigniting that fire.

"It shifted from, 'Okay, this tragedy happened,' to this responsibility, like, 'All these people are going out of their way for me. How can I give up on them now that everyone's calling me inspiration and this and that?' " LeGrand recalls.

"It's like, 'I can't give up on all these people that are doing so much for me,' " he says.

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While playing sports ultimately wasn't in his future, LeGrand — who is still working toward his goal of walking on his own one day — says the years he spent as an athlete prepared him for life after the accident.

"My game days are a lot different now than they were when I was playing college football," LeGrand says. "But those practices, those grinding sessions, those therapy sessions, that's all stuff that I was doing physically ... now I do it physically and mentally."

"You know when people say that speed bump in the road comes in their life? Well, this was a mountain that was put in front of me," he continues. "Do you climb up it and get to the top? Or do you sit at the bottom of it and let all the rocks fall down on top of you? And through my support system, I was able to be lifted over, up and over this mountain. I'm still climbing this mountain, but I'm getting to the top and I'm reaching it."