In 2017, Shazier suffered a devastating on-field spinal cord injury after a head-on collision, leaving him paralyzed. Doctors told Shazier he had a 20 percent chance of walking again, but he was determined to fight the odds. After spinal stabilization surgery and months of rehabilitation, he can not only walk again, but was able to dance with his wife at their wedding just two years after his life-altering injury.
Now, the retired NFL linebacker has one mission: to give spinal cord injury (SCI) patients the same fighting chance he received during his recovery. After meeting other SCI patients, caregivers and families, many of whom opened up to him about their mental, physical and emotional struggles, he came to understand the tremendous need when it comes to funding, resources and support for the SCI community.
“My injury has helped me see firsthand what the SCI community goes through every day and the inequities people face when it comes to getting the care they need. I want to be there for people who are going through similar struggles, including their caregivers and families,” said Shazier.
Spinal cord rehabilitation is expensive, painful and exhausting for patients and their caregivers and, yet, not everyone has access to the same care and resources. Spinal cord injuries require immediate attention and months of rehabilitation. The best results take place in the first 18-24 months after injury. As a professional athlete with world-class organizations supporting his recovery, Shazier received more than 130 rehab sessions. Most spinal cord injury patients may only receive 20-30 because of insurance thresholds.
“The mission of the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation is to optimize recovery and build an empowering community for SCI patients, families and caregivers,” said William Kassling, chair of the fund’s newly appointed board of directors. “More than 90 percent of SCI cases are caused by a sudden and unexpected traumatic event. Our initial focus will raise money to help those living with sports-related and vehicular accident injuries.”
Join Ryan Shazier live on Instagram on Giving Tuesday
To celebrate its launch just in time for the holidays, the Ryan Shazier Fund is partnering with Instagram to raise $50,000 by Giving Tuesday. On Tuesday, December 1, Instagram users are invited to join Shazier on his Instagram account (@shazier) for a live fundraising broadcast. Viewers can donate to the Giving Tuesday campaign as they’re watching in real-time and unlock a “I donated” sticker.
As a newly established 501(c)3, the fund’s goal is to raise money to:
- Increase the number of rehab visits available to SCI patients
- Serve as a navigator for SCI families and friends in need of critical resources
- Establish a support network for the allies of individuals with spinal cord injuries
“Our goal is for SCI patients to live independent and meaningful lives, no matter their socioeconomic status,” said Caroline Boyce, the fund’s new executive director. “There are more than 17,000 new SCI injuries a year and when patients don’t have access to the care they need, it puts a financial strain on our economy. With an initial focus in western Pennsylvania, our fund will support the SCI community both financially and emotionally.”
The fund’s executive director
Caroline Boyce moved to Pittsburgh from London, England at the age of six and has considered herself a Pittsburgh native ever since. She brings 30 years of experience in leading nonprofit organizations in executive roles and as a change consultant. Her most recent work includes service as Interim Executive Director with diverse organizations, including the Cliveden of the National Trust, the Maternity Care Coalition, and the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She also served as executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Boyce has a BA from Connecticut College and an MA from Cornell University. She is a Certified Board Source Nonprofit Governance Consultant, certified by the Support Center for Nonprofit Management’s Interim Executive Director program, and a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh. A long-time Steelers fan, Boyce is delighted to join Ryan Shazier’s team to advocate for the victims of spinal cord injuries.
Shazier’s football career
After graduating high school in Florida, Shazier headed to Ohio State University, where his collegiate football career began as a freshman, a rare occurrence at a powerhouse Big Ten school. During his three-year Buckeye career as a defensive linebacker, he recorded 315 tackles, 208 solo tackles and 14.5 sacks. He decided to forego his senior season, and in 2014, he was a first-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Pittsburgh, Shazier made an immediate impact on the defense, and in his first three seasons, he was a two-time Pro Bowler. Over four seasons, he played in 46 games, starting 41. He recorded 299 tackles, 202 of them solo tackles and had 7 interceptions. Shazier quickly emerged as a team leader for his personality and strategic thinking, as well as his on-field success. On September 9, 2020, he officially announced his retirement from the NFL. Now he’s focusing on leading a new team and looking to recruit team members to join the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation.
ABOUT THE RYAN SHAZIER FUND FOR SPINAL REHABILITATION
When doctors told former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier that he had a 20 percent chance of walking again, his life changed. Today, the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation has one mission: to give those with spinal cord injuries and their caregivers the support, resources and funding they need to live independent and meaningful lives. To learn more, visit http://www.ryanshazierfund.org.