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Paralysis no limit to determination

Helping out…
Ricky Wright, the former Edison Tech football player who was paralyzed during a scrimmage in August 1994, is attempting to raise money to purchase a wheel-chair adaptable vehicle.

A fundraiser in his honor will be held at the Wishing Well restaurant on Chili Avenue on July 30. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling (585) 342-3422.

If you are unable to attend the dinner but would like to help Wright, you can send a donation to the Ricky Wright Fund, Charter One Bank, 230 Waring Road, Rochester, NY 14609.

That Ricky Wright remains a football fanatic may seem strange, considering the tragic circumstances. After all, it was football that exacted a heavy toll on him when he was just 16 years old, robbing him of his ability to walk at an age when he yearned to sprint.

But not once during these past 10 years has Wright blamed the sport for the challenges he faces from a wheelchair.

”The injury that paralyzed me was a freak thing, a fluke,” the former Edison Tech football player says from the living room of his family’s Ferncliffe Drive home on Rochester’s east side.

”I could have suffered it riding my bike or falling down the stairs. To blame football would be to look for an excuse, and I’m not looking for any excuses. I’m looking to move forward.”

As the 25-year-old gestures with gnarled hands and skinny arms that he learned how to re-use through countless Rehabilitation sessions, you can’t help but feel his determination. It is palpable. It fills the room.

”I was always a fierce competitor,” Wright says firmly. “I hated to lose at anything, and I’m not going to allow myself to lose at this.”

Feelings of anger and grief often stand in the way of people who suffer sudden injuries. But Wright refused to allow those roadblocks to stop him. Once he started therapy several weeks after his spinal cord injury during an August 1994 scrimmage at Greece Arcadia High School, his Depression gave way to a sense of purpose.

Just because he couldn’t walk wasn’t going to mean he couldn’t live. “I have dreams and aspirations,” says Wright, a junior accounting major at SUNY Brockport. “I want to get my CPA and land a job and get married and have a family.”

He has always been an optimistic person. Even paralysis hasn’t changed that.

”Before the injury occurred, he was always a bubbly kid in love with life,” says Mike Nally, the longtime Edison football coach. “We used him at linebacker and cornerback and he would show up every day at practice and ask enthusiastically, ‘Coach, what are we going to do today?’ From what I can see, he’s still the same effervescent young man. He’ll come to our games from time to time and I’ll wave to him up in the stands and I’ll see that big smile on his face. It warms my heart.”

Though his rehab can be laborious, Wright plows ahead, spurred on by victories such as re-learning how to brush his teeth or prepare his own meals.

”Those things may not seem like much to most people,” he says. “But to me they are huge.”

Nally is not surprised by Wright’s dogged determination and ability to inspire.

”That’s the way he was when he played for Edison,” the coach says. “He was always one to rally his teammates. He was a leader by his words and actions. He still is.”

Wright gladly took part in a video on disabilities for The Advocacy Center on South Avenue and recently spent several hours with Anthony Salmon, the Wilson Magnet senior who was paralyzed in a football game in September.

”We talked about a lot of different things,” Wright says. “People ask me if I inspired Anthony, and if I did in some small way, that’s great. But to be truthful, I came away from our talk inspired by him. He is so much further along than I was at that stage. You can tell he has a great attitude and a great support system and that’s 90 percent of the battle.”

As Wright talks, his mother looks on with watery eyes. Donna Baker says she still feels anger and bitterness about the injury. She is baffled that Ricky can sit in front of the television for hours on end during the fall watching pro and college football games.

”I couldn’t do that if I were him, but I guess that’s Ricky,” she says. “He’s been able to put things in perspective and separate the game from his injury. All this time has passed, but I still have angry feelings about the game. I’m a mother and I guess I still blame football for taking something very precious away from my son.”

Baker wipes her eyes, places her hands on Wright’s shoulders, and begins smiling.

”I am so proud of him,” she says, her voice cracking. “The way he’s handled everything has been unbelievable.”

Wright’s desire is to become as independent as possible. And in order to achieve that freedom, he will need a vehicle.

”Driving is the last step to me gaining my independence,” he says. “I want to stop relying on other people and being at the mercy of costly transportation services. I want to be able to rely on myself.”

He learned to drive at the Rochester Rehabilitation Center. Money, though, is the obstacle to putting those skills to use. Adaptive cars, trucks or vans can often start at $30,000, and without such a vehicle Wright will remain totally dependent on his family and public transportation.

It makes it difficult for him to journey back and forth to campus or to spend additional study time there. It also restricts him from attending social events such as games and movies.

”Transportation is one of the things that prevents people with disabilities from being included in the work force and the community,” says Patrizia Corvaia, public education coordinator for The Advocacy Center. “If you want to adapt a van like Ricky needs to do, it takes a lot of money and there aren’t a lot of resources out there to do so.”

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that 29 percent of people with disabilities cited transportation woes as a deterrent to gaining employment.

”Ricky and so many others in similar situations merely want to be contributing members of society and live their lives to the fullest,” Corvaia says. “Ricky and his parents do not have the means to purchase an adaptive car, and that is hurtful to someone who, by himself, has made a long journey back from a tragic accident but can’t make it a mile away from home on his own.”

Family and friends are rallying around him in an attempt to make his dream a reality. A fund has been established in his name and on July 30 a fundraising dinner will be held at the Wishing Well restaurant on Chili Avenue.

”I don’t want to spend my life being dependent on others,” Wright says. “I’m at that stage of my life when I want to feel like I did it on my own.”

By Scott Pitoniak
Democrat and Chronicle columnist

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