Local organization supports footballers with spinal cord injuries


SAN ANTONIO – It’s one of the most popular sports in America, for kids and adults, for players and fans. Football isn’t just a game, it’s a way of life for hundreds of thousands of people who are either directly involved or just cheering from the touchline.

Turns out, it can also be a dangerous and life-changing sport. Injuries suffered by players on the pitch can change their future and that of their family.

It happened to the Canales family. Chris was playing in what turned out to be the last match of his football career. He was a defensive back and punter for high school Marcus Baptist Academy. He went for a tackle in the 4th quarter. After punching, he was on the ground. He knew something was wrong. He was rushed to hospital where he learned the news with his family. Chris suffered a spinal injury and he was paralyzed from the upper body down.

“It’s tough, I mean, he’s got an intensive care room full of all his teammates, his coaches, everyone’s waiting to see the outcome of Chris’ injury. Yeah, you’re surrounded by all that help, at the same time you feel so alone,” said Eddie Canales, Chris’ father.

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This loneliness has become despair. The Canales family really didn’t know where to turn.

“At the time, there was no help. The coaches didn’t know what to do, where to go, how to help the family. They didn’t know how Chris’ life was going to change or how the family’s life was going to change,” Eddie Canales said.

The Canales family figured that out along the way.

Heroes are born from tragedy. Specifically, Gridiron Heroes.

“Gridiron Heroes works with young men who suffered spinal injuries while playing high school football,” Canales said.

Part of recovery is managing the ups and downs. Chris was going through this phase so his dad decided it was time to get him out of the house. They went to a high school football playoff game. Early in the game, one player, Corey Fulbright, was injured and Chris knew it wasn’t good and he had to help.

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“He said ‘dad, I know what he’s going through, you know what the family is going through, we have to go help him.’ That was the inspiration to launch Gridiron Heroes, it was the good Lord telling us that was our goal,” Canales said.

I wanted to be there for him, let him know a little bit about what I went through,” said Chris Canales.

The organization helps the player and his family to go through the process step by step. The physical and mental aspect of recovery. Chris focuses on the athlete while Eddie helps guide the family.

“A lot of times when I go and talk to the player, especially when he’s in hospital or in rehab, we don’t really talk about what’s going on with him, we talk about sports, football,” Chris said.

One of the many things that binds.

So far, Gridiron Heroes has helped around 90 athletes. They also provided 15 athletes and families with specially designed vans.

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