On December 4, 2017, Ryan Shazier’s life was changed forever.
After the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker went for a head-on tackle during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Shazier collapsed on the field and immediately placed his hand on the middle of his back.
Though the NFL star managed to roll over, it was quickly apparent he was having trouble moving his legs. The next morning, tests revealed Shazier had experienced a spinal contusion, according to New York’s Daily News, and he would undergo a stabilization surgery just two days later. All the while, there remained uncertainty about whether he would ever be able to walk again.
On February 1, Shazier celebrated his release from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center by uploading a picture of himself standing to his Instagram account, and since then, the 25-year-old has continuously posted pictures and video of his seemingly miraculous recovery (even posting footage of himself doing pull-ups at a gym).
“I’m feeling great. I’m getting a lot better,” Shazier told NFL.com in March. “Every day is a challenge, but every day I promise you it’s getting better.”
He added: “We have rehab four times a week. I do it two hours a day. Every day is a new journey and I’m constantly getting better.”
Then, on Thursday, during the first night of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Shazier stunned everyone in the crowd. As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took to the podium to reveal the Steelers first-round pick, Goodell introduced Shazier as a special guest.
“He inspires us all,” Goodell said, as the cameras panned to the stage’s hallway to reveal Shazier walking on his two feet next to his fiancée.
As Shazier walked to the podium to announce his team’s pick— safety Terrell Edmunds from Virginia Tech—the crowd erupted in applause at the heartwarming sight.
— NFL (@NFL) April 27, 2018
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After his appearance, Shazier posted on Instagram about the experience.
“I’m truly blessed and humbled from all the prayers, love, and support that I have received,” he wrote. “This is what keeps me going.”
His post received more almost 90,000 likes on the social platform, with dozens of people commenting to call him a “true inspiration.” One Instagram user simply wrote of Shazier, “soul of lion.”
During a talk with NFL.com, Shazier made clear that he not only wants to play football in the league once again, but he wants to aim for the Hall of Fame.
Love you all thank you. God IS SO GREAT!!!
— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) April 27, 2018
“My end goal is to allow the Lord to let me come back and play at the high level that I was before,” Shazier told NFL.com. “Every day I try to get better. I strive for the Hall of Fame and I was doing that through this year, the whole time I was playing. And I still do that while I’m doing rehab.”
Shazier’s determination and his dreams of what is still possible is what keeps him focused on recapturing the magical path he was on just a few months ago.
“I know it’s still a possibility,” he said. “I have the Lord and he has my back and I constantly feel I’m going to come back and play football.”