Disability Issues

Gridiron Alliance helps young athletes with disabilities

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Chicago-area deacon created an organization that reaches out to high school athletes who became disabled on the playing field.

He has written a book he hopes will help others understand the challenges these athletes face. It started 1999 with a parishioner who became disabled during football practice. Deacon Don Grossnickle gave the young athlete and his family hope. They encourage him to help others.

"I've been working with eight, and we've got lot of work to do because when spinal cord injury happens to a boy and his family, there's adjustments that have to be made," Grossnickle said.

In 2010, Deacon Grossnickle created the Gridiron Alliance.

"The National Football League and the Chicago Bears have helped us become organized," he said. "The number one issue that we're fighting for right now is that high school athletes play their sports without insurance. So when a catastrophic injury hits, the financial demands and all the other life demands for the individual and family forms a crisis,"

Steve Herbst is a board member of Gridiron Alliance. Steve is a 1984 graduate of Palatine High School he became disabled when he was a freshman.

"I was returning a punt and on the punt return, I was about to get tackled, and I didn't want to fumble. So, as I leaned forward, [I] landed on the top of my head and fractured my fifth and six vertebrae in my neck, and that's how I became disabled," Herbst said.

That was 32 years ago. Now, Steve is married with two kids. He graduated from the University of Illinois and works at Allstate.

"I think it was the support of the community, my friends and my family that really helped me moved forward," said Herbst.

Last year, the book Unbreakable Resilience: Leap of Faith Stories to Live By was published. Steve was one of the athletes interviewed.

"It talks about the things I went through and things I thought about at the time," said Herbst.

"It's an inspirational book for everyone. It's something that I just had to do," said Grossnickle. "It's not just people with disabilities. Anyone who has any sort of problems with challenges, it's a great motivational tool to utilize."

All sales from the book goes to support the Gridiron Alliance: www.gridironalliance.org

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