Alexander in wheelchair, but UAB lets him work toward football dream
Timothy Alexander might be paralyzed, but he's a member of the UAB football team, and he's convinced one day he'll play on the gridiron again.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Timothy Alexander calls it "my car wreck" the same way we would call it "my cat" or "my sweater."
The life-changing event of a 24-year-old man in wheelchair has become that possessive. Alexander owns it the same way he owns his classes -- 15 hours this semester -- the same way he owns a desire to become a motivational speaker. The same way he owns football practice.
Wait, what? Sure, Alexander was a promising tight end at E.B. Erwin High School but that was years ago. One day, the young man in the wheelchair zipping around the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus brought his old Rivals.com recruiting page to Blazers coach Garrick McGee. Yeah, he was owning that, too.
"Big-time recruit," McGee thought to himself.
But football practice? Practice is for players and Timothy Alexander was not a player, not in his condition. But before he could dream to be upright again, he had a proposition for McGee: You let me live that dream and try to become that player.
"I just fell in love with the person," McGee remembers. "Then he started talking to me about, 'Man, the Lord is going to bless me. I'm going to be back on the field.' I started saying, 'You know, I believe that, too. I think you're right.' "
So Alexander, seven years removed from his car wreck that paralyzed him, practices football. Each afternoon. It's not the kind of practice any of them is used to. Alexander does push-ups during practice periods, does leg lifts in the weight room. He once benched 315 pounds.
McGee has given him a locker, his own jersey. This bio even says he's playing football. All this because when the Lord decides to bring Timothy Alexander all the way to the field, he wants to be in shape.
"I don't think there's any doubt, we're past hope," McGee said recently. "Tim believes that there's no man that's going to fix this for him. [He believes] that Tim is a blessing from the Lord and the Lord is going to be the one that solves this, the one who puts him back on his feet."
"They know," Alexander says of his teammates, "any day I would trade places."
October 28, 2006. Back then, Alexander was a tight end for Erwin, riding with a friend to the Magic City Classic, a FCS game at Legion Field. The night before Alexander had played what turned out to be his final high school game. The friend, Rodney Daniels, was the team's mascot. That Saturday morning they had taken their ACT. No one knows why Daniels fell asleep at the wheel at 2:30 in the afternoon or why Alexander was the only one who was injured in a horrific auto accident. Alexander knows only that he's the one in the wheelchair seven years later vowing to play college football. The car left the highway that day, careening off what Alexander described as a cliff. As the crash was occurring, he said, Alexander was able to somehow push a 2-year-old out of the car. Amazingly, the child was unhurt.
Alexander was initially paralyzed when his head hit the roof of the car. At that point, he could not feel his legs. Daniels pulled Alexander out from the back window of the vehicle.
It got worse from there. Alexander said as he was dragged out, his neck "snapped." When paramedics arrived, he did not have any feeling from the neck down. Alexander's spine was affected at the T-7 vertebrae. (He has since regained feeling from the waist up.) Doctors told him he would never walk again. Depression set in. Football was an afterthought. Life was an afterthought.
"The doctor said depression will kill you," Alexander recalled. "I'd already faced death one time in the hospital when I flat-lined. There were blood transfusions, a tracheotomy. The doctor also said, 'Son, you have so much more in you.' Something snapped and I began to start believe in myself. I started praying again."
Patricia Alexander didn't allow herself to feel pity. In April alone of that year she had lost her best friend, her brother, and the family's house burned down. Tim's brother David L. Woodard -- the one who roused him from a nap while the house burned -- was killed in an auto accident.
Maybe it didn't register months later when Patricia was shopping with her sister. The hospital had to call twice before it sunk in. Her son had been in an auto accident and was paralyzed.
"We kept shopping," she said.
That's the thing about paralysis. While the victim doesn't feel, the affliction radiates out. Timothy spent three months in the hospital. They had to wash his hair, brush his teeth. Once home, he had to be turned every two hours. When Patricia went to work, her brother-in-law came over to do the duties.
"Lord," Patricia thought to herself, "I'm not just ready to handle [this]."
No, that was not selfish. That was realistic. How much can a family, a person, take?
"Mama," Timothy said. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."
If you don't believe in the power of prayer, you don't believe in Timothy Alexander. Over the years, hope has been measured in twitches, sensations, pulses of blood through veins. Eventually he could feel, but not totally.
"Three years ago, I started to get feeling back," Alexander said in a room underneath UAB's Bartow Arena. "I had a dream from God I would play football. Mike Jones [UAB's trainer] allowed me to come in here and do leg presses. My legs started burning real bad.
"I said, 'Mike, I feel that.' "
It's not a total miracle, not yet. You wonder where Alexander would be if he were in a formal rehab program. Alexander had been rehabbing locally at Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital but Patricia's insurance ran out. What treatment her son does get comes out of the money she earns as a medical assistant for a local OB/GYN.
"All the major rehab counselors, they stopped my therapy because my spasms in my legs were too strong," Alexander said. "I felt like, to me, it was a lack of patience."
And that's the further tragedy. Before the insurance money ran out, doctors had him walking with the help of canes. You can't help but wonder how much a miracle could be furthered by the hands of mortals.
For now, Alexander is so ebullient in that wheelchair that, at times, it looks like he's merely resting in it. He's getting up at any minute. At least that's what everyone is hoping.
In the eyes of the NCAA, he eligibility clock hasn't started. There are Army veterans who have played college football in their 50s. Timothy Alexander has nothing but time.
"Sympathy? He doesn't want any sympathy," McGee said. "That's why I love him. He doesn't want to be treated specially. I don't have to be careful when I talk to him. Our players don't. Tim, he doesn't want that, which is why I love him so much."
If the football thing doesn't work out, Alexander doesn't have to be told he has a future as a motivational speaker. He is compelling, bright, wise at a young age. A criminal justice and communications major, he already has his associate's degree from Wallace Community College.
So in the thoughts and minds of the Blazers on that practice field, Timothy is being treated like he's nothing more than nicked up. It is something temporary. With his own locker, his own jersey, he is subject to the same strictures as his teammates. Alexander has been late. No excuses. No breaks. McGee assigns extra pushups.
"He gets no special treatment," the coach said.
But if he can't play, the player certainly does dream -- all the time. Timothy Alexander thinks a lot about Power Wing Right 27 GS. That was the last play called in the last huddle of his last game for the big tight end at Erwin High.
"I had the lead block for our running back to score to beat Gardendale," Alexander recalled. "On that play, that's when the tight end pulls all the way to the other tackle and is supposed to clear a hole. Whatever I see come, I'm supposed to lay him out."
With that, a 24-year-old man with everything to live for wheels off to another location on campus. They will either know him there or know his story quickly. Timothy Alexander is anything but laid out.
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