Williams felt a tingle in his neck, and then pain spread down his spine. He tried to do a push-up and get back in the huddle, but he couldn’t move his extremities.
At a nearby hospital, the diagnosis was “C6 incomplete”: a fractured vertebra that left partial feeling in his lower body but not the ability to will it to movement.
Doctors strategically never told the Gaithersburg, Md., native whether he’d walk again. On Saturday, he answered that question.
With the help of a walker and a large brace, Williams walked across the stage as his name was called at Georgetown graduation. Volunteers stood in front and behind him to help Williams keep his balance.
At the end of the stage, he threw himself into a hug with Jack DeGioia, president of the university.
A year and a half after the injury, Williams was the keynote graduation speaker last June for his high school alma mater, Quince Orchard in Maryland’s Montgomery County. Seated in a wheelchair at DAR Constitution Hall, he never specifically mentioned his injury but spoke to the new graduates about self-motivation and determination, according to the Gaithersburg Town Courier.
“Having a positive mind-set can really change the way you see the world,” he said. “We ourselves have to be our No. 1 motivator. In hard times, when our back is against the wall and we feel like there is no way out, we have to be the first ones to tell ourselves that it’ll be okay and that we must and will overcome. . . . Through surrounding ourselves with positivity, we can breathe new life around us. We can take advantage of everything life has to offer by doing so. Do not allow yourself to be defined by yourself or by others. We are so much more than just one part of ourselves. . . . Constantly adhering your actions to please others will drain you and leave you lost in your own body.
“I hate the word ‘normal.’ It is a word of judgment and helps create the schisms, hate and prejudice we see today that separates our country and this world. There is a deep hatred rooted within this country that stems solely from the inability to accept those that are different. Putting a label on a human being is one of the greatest crimes committed day in and day out.”
The Hoyas never ruled out Williams. For the next two seasons, he remained on the roster, wearing No. 2. The team wears a sticker bearing the number on the backs of its helmets. Immediately after the injury, the No. 2 replaced the Hoyas’ “G” logo on the side of their helmets, too.
Williams told the Town Courier after last summer’s speech that he was seeing “noticeable improvement” each week in rehab, and he said meeting his goal to walk again and regain as much lower body control was “just a matter of time.”
On Saturday, the moment arrived.
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