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Click here for the original Minneapolis Star Tribune article

He broke his neck making a tackle

Consider the story of a man who exudes vitality even though his own was seriously challenged after an accident 40 years ago.

Mike Patrick with students at one of the presentations he gives in schools. Photo: file, Star Tribune
Article by: TOM BRAKKE

Forty years ago tonight, "before a large crowd in perfect weather for watching football," a game was played that would change many lives. The newspaper summary that contained that description was routine in every respect, but near the end it mentioned that some injuries had occurred.

The front page of that issue of the Worthington Daily Globe had a sidebar with a picture of Mike Patrick that had been cropped from the team photo. "Seriously hurt," said the headline below it.

Accompanying the game story on the sports page was a photo of Patrick, lying in the end zone, paralyzed. His neck had been broken as he made a tackle.

Within hours, holes would be drilled in his head and he'd be put in a Stryker bed, so that he could be rotated regularly for months. First looking up, then looking down, suspended and still, physically the very opposite of the vibrant and athletic young man I had known.

In his columns in the Daily Globe, Bill Brower began providing updates on Mike's condition and encouraged readers to visit, telling those with doubts about what they could possibly say that "Mike will set you at ease with his good-natured joking and conversation."

That he did. Three weeks after his injury, Mike listened on the radio as his teammates won their homecoming game against my town's squad. When I visited him the next night, his voice boomed, repeating the announcer's calls that had described my futile carries of the ball.

The Worthington newspaper and radio station started a fund drive for Mike and his family, and thousands of dollars flowed in, along with recognition and words of support from professional athletes and famous political figures. Organizations and individuals throughout the region made donations and put on events to raise money.

Had the story ended there, it would be a great example of how we can work together to help others in need. But there's much more to it.

Once he was able to ride in a wheelchair, Mike returned to high school and eventually graduated from the University of Minnesota. Always quite a talker, he became a motivational speaker and has specialized in helping young people deal with the challenges of their lives.

It came naturally to him. Someone who had gone to school with Mike before his injury said that he got along "with just about everyone" -- jocks, geeks, farmers and freaks. He could see the worth in every person.

That's what his programs at schools are about. That, and the hard times that we all have, no matter what category we put ourselves in or others would put us in. Mike knows from experience how you can feel that your hopes and dreams are gone and that your life is not worth living.

If you're out in public with Mike, you're sure to have someone who has heard him speak come over and talk about his visit. Some describe the impact that he had on their lives at a critical time.

Once, at a fast-food restaurant in suburban Minneapolis, a girl handed him a note that ended, "Thanks. I think you saved my life."

His message is laced with the sense of humor that has gotten him through it all. "Don't ever break your neck," he says, "It's not worth the good parking spots."

The odds against Mike living all these years were very long, and medical problems have often prevented him from doing the work that he loves, especially recently. He hopes that a book he is finishing will reach those in need of support.

Looking back at newspapers from 1971 is a reminder of how much our world has changed, but also how little. The political and cultural arguments could be lifted from the pages of that time and put into those of today, with few words needing to be altered.

And it's always been hard to deal with the pressures of adolescence, although the task seems particularly daunting today.

You may be struggling with those pressures or know someone who is. Other problems may threaten to overwhelm you.

Think about Mike Patrick. He took on the unimaginable and used his story to help others. One day, perhaps you could do the same.

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Tom Brakke is a Twin Cities CFA.