Ben Abercrombie returning to Harvard 2 years after severe football injury left him paralyzed

Ben Abercrombie's journey back to Harvard

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Millions of kids and young adults are returning to school in the next few weeks, but not many have a story like Ben Abercrombie.

Ben suffered a severe injury two years ago that left him paralyzed, but the Hoover native is returning to Harvard on Aug. 26.

Though Ben may have bad days, you’d never know it.

“I guess it’s better to look at life from the light rather than from the darkness, yeah,” he said.

It’s that amazing attitude that has Ben ready to return to college. Before the injury, Ben was attending Harvard on a full academic scholarship but also played football.

It was in his first game that everything changed. The video of Ben’s injury is difficult to watch, but he wants people to see it.

“I knew immediately (something was wrong),” Ben said. "It was like slow motion going down and laying there. I couldn’t move. I knew immediately, just something I’d never felt before.

“The way I hit him wasn’t like I didn’t dip my head or anything it’s like a freak thing that happened.”

Ben’s parents, Marty and Sherri, didn’t expect Ben to play in the first game of his freshman season, so they planned to go to Harvard’s first home game the following week and watched the season opener online. They watched as their son ran onto the field while streaming the game through a big-screen TV at home.

“Well, when I saw the hit you could tell he just went totally limp so I knew,” Sherri said with a pause. “He quickly told them I can’t breathe.”

Marty added: “The team physician called and let us know that they think it’s a severe spinal cord injury. Almost immediately after it happened, my good friend - a Lutheran minister - called and said let’s start praying. It was a big help for us you could feel God’s spirits lift us up.”

The Abercrombie family have relied on God’s spirits since.

The city of Hoover and surrounding communities have rallied and supported Ben and his family. There’s still no doubt that support and those prayers are needed.

Ben remains paralyzed from the neck down, but he’s never given up.

“My parents have a big reason in that and my family and friends all the hope that people speak into me - that’s great,” Ben said. “Every morning we do range of motion after I eat -- keep my flexibility. I take a shower, I do rehab.”

Marty said it’s that positive attitude that Ben has while facing challenges daily is what makes him and Sherri proud.

“You know, we have bad days and you come down here you see Ben’s attitude and his smiling face his sense of humor, it’s kind of slaps you in the face, 'Come on, Marty and Sherri,” Marty said.

Ben’s recovery will continue to take time, but hard work and new treatments allow goals to be set. Step one is for Ben to hopefully breathe on his own again. The next goal is for Ben to be able to use his hands again. As Hoover football coach Josh Niblett would say, crawl before you walk.

“Ben’s got that discipline built in,” Marty said.

As Ben prepares to return to Harvard in the coming weeks, Sherri will move with him and live in the dorm.

And through it all, Ben still hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

“He sees his friends who’ll be juniors and he’s like, ‘I’m gonna be a 20-year-old freshman with my mom living in the dorm,’" Marty said.

Some may see this as an enormous sacrifice for Sherri, but she says there was never a question for what she would do for Ben.

“Still being on the vent, still needed 24 hours, the easiest thing is for someone who knows him takes care of him everyday and that is me,” she said with a laugh.

“My goal is to keep him out of the hospital as healthy as possible doing exercises so that when recovery does start happening it’ll be easier will be quicker,” Sherri continued.

And for that, Ben is ready with an unbreakable spirit.

“Everything is looking up. It’s all getting better and eventually through prayers and everything, I will be healed again whether it’s random through treatments or whatever, I believe I will walk again,” Ben said.

It’s that belief that keeps the family going.

“You go back to that first day and we could have lost Ben that day, no doubt. A lot of parents have lost their kids, we still have him,” Marty said.

And what a young man they have in Ben.

“I’m still hopeful I’m going to walk again I guess it’s God’s plan of how long it’s going to take - I mean I won’t know until it happens,” Ben said.

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