Ryan Shazier Compares Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Process to Football: 'Always Have a Game Plan'

Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed in 2017, but the former Pittsburgh Steelers player says he recovered by marking his own "touchdowns" in life moments

ryan shazier
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Ryan Shazier is back on his feet and sharing his story after suffering a serious spinal cord injury in 2017 that left him unable to walk.

The former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, 29, just spoke to Good Morning America anchor Michael Strahan about his miraculous recovery and his new book, Walking Miracle: How Faith, Positive Thinking, and Passion for Football Brought Me Back from Paralysis ... and Helped Me Find Purpose.

Shazier appeared on GMA Tuesday, where he detailed his recovery to Strahan, 50, including how he used his love for football to mark progress in his journey to walk again after doctors said he would remain in a wheelchair for life.

"Through life and football, you always have a game plan," Shazier told Strahan. "You always have goals of where you want to be at, you always have a road map. To me, I knew I needed to make a roadmap and treat this like any other rehab. And when you get injured, they always tell you steps about where you have to be, where you're going to get, and I just wanted to make a roadmap and goals for me to get there."

"So every time I reach a little small goal, I call them first downs," he continued. "And every time I have a big goal, like walking at the draft, or dancing at my wedding, I would consider those as touchdowns. And I just try and use it as the game of football when it came to my rehab."

Shazier sustained a spinal contusion during a 2017 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The NFL star collapsed after a tackle and was brought off the field. He underwent stabilization surgery two days after his injury, PEOPLE previously reported, and regained movement in his legs after rehab.

ryan shazier
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Just one year after his fateful tackle, Shazier walked at the 2018 NFL draft, where he was accompanied by his now-wife, Michelle Rodriguez. Shazier told Strahan the draft marked the farthest he had walked without his cane, making for a "scary" and "exciting" moment.

He said, "It was actually a really scary moment but I also just wanted to thank people for allowing me and just praying for me and just allowing me to be able to do this, so it was really exciting."

Shazier told GMA his own recovery experience inspired him to help others going through similar journeys. He launched the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation in 2020 with the goal of assisting people suffering from spinal cord injuries.

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"I've seen what a lot of people were dealing with. I understood that it's a really difficult journey," Shazier told Strahan. "I was blessed to have the NFL's support and the Steelers' support and so many people around the world supporting me, but then when I walked or rode past other hospital rooms, I wouldn't see as many patients having family members there."

"I wouldn't see people coming up to rehab as often as I was coming, so I started asking questions about what they were going through," he continued. "I started to notice that some people weren't allowed the same amount of rehab because of insurance and how things were working for them. And I also noticed some people didn't have the same amount of resources, so I wanted to provide something that allowed people to have more resources and rehab to allow them to have independence like I once did."

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