Dennis Byrd was an inspiration to many.

Dennis Byrd was an inspiration to many.

In 1992, Dennis Byrd,  a talented defensive lineman for the New York Jets was paralyzed after a vicious collision on the field.
Byrd was a talented player and only 26 when his career ended in a flash.

The injury hit many of my friends very hard.
While a few were Jets fans, the reason Byrd’s injury resonated among our circle was that we had two friends who suffered neck and spinal injuries in freak and tragic accidents the summer after our senior year in high school.
Ten years before, in 1982– within a short time frame– two friends dove into pools–one broke his neck and was nearly paralyzed and the other was paralyzed and later passed away from complications related to the injuries.
It was devastating.
One friend came crazy close to paralysis–centimeters–and ended up in a “halo” for a fairly long period of time. At the time–as the cliché goes– we felt immortal and many of us took some crazy risks as 17-18 year old boys tend to do.
And our friend, well over six feet, athletic and strong as a bull, seemed proof to me of our invincibility. I learned the day of the pool party that he wasn’t.
Our other friend– not as close– but a guy we knew well and really liked since we were little guys wasn’t as fortunate. He was paralyzed from the initial injury and didn’t last long.
It was brutally sad. You couldn’t have found a nicer kid. He too was young and athletic.
So when Byrd was hurt on the field a decade later it brought forth a flood of memories. And fears. At least for me.
One time, for a newspaper story at the old Delray Times, I underwent hypnosis and was later told I talked extensively about being in a wheelchair unable to move.
When I shared that experience with my mom she told me that when I was a small child she would often see me staring at people in wheelchairs and would have to tell me to stop looking.
Apparently, one time a man in a chair noticed me looking and called me over. My mom told me I walked toward him and he asked me if I had any questions.
I asked him what was it like to not be able to walk, run and play sports. My mom was mortified. But the man laughed and said it was OK to ask. He said that in his dreams he ran and played basketball and that’s why he often looked forward to sleep.
It was a teachable moment. And my mother said the lesson was to be grateful for what you have and can do. She said never take anything for granted. She might have mentioned to be careful;  a lesson that I probably didn’t immediately absorb considering an ill fated sky diving accident I had a few years later. (Another story for another time).
Dennis Byrd rehabbed and through medical intervention and sheer will learned to walk again. They honored him at the stadium a year or so later and even made a TV movie about his struggle to walk again.
Last week, he was killed in a car accident in Oklahoma. Hit by a 17 year old teenage boy who lost control of his vehicle and struck Byrd’s truck.
Dennis Byrd was 50.
A sad ending for an inspirational guy.
I read recently about a spike in auto fatalities.

Experts blame a lot of the spike on distracted drivers. Locally, I see a lot of aggressive driving. The two most dangerous things I do most days is make a left out of my neighborhood onto Lake Ida Road having to account for four lanes of traffic moving in opposite directions and often flying through a school zone. The other dangerous move is turning into my office on Second Avenue in Boca …fearful of slowing down to turn into the driveway… with speeding drivers tailgating. Why are we in such a hurry?
I’m not sure of the precise details of the Byrd accident. Frankly I found it too sad to delve into further. I just know he’s gone.
And it reminds me of how fragile we all are. One friend dives into a pool and lives, another dies. A young football player takes a hit and suffers greatly only to be taken from this world on a lonely Oklahoma highway.

It makes you think.