Utley returning to Ed Block banquet

Ex-Lion receives award for fight against paralysis

March 07, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

The first time Mike Utley attended the Ed Block Courage Awards banquet was in 1992, 3 1/2 months after he was paralyzed from the chest down while playing for the Detroit Lions.

It was Utley's first major public appearance after the injury, and he remembers the reporters, the cameras, the intense scrutiny he was under during his two-day visit to Baltimore.

"But you know what?" Utley said yesterday. "I survived."

Emboldened by the experience, Utley went public with his quest to find a cure for paralysis and continued working toward his goal of walking off the Silverdome field and bringing proper closure to his NFL career.

Sitting in his wheelchair eight years later, Utley remains a picture of strength. And tonight, he will be honored again at the Block dinner, receiving a special alumni award.

"People ask me, `Do I accept this injury?' The answer is no, I deal with it on a daily basis," said Utley, a guard who played three seasons in the NFL.

"I dealt with being a ballplayer, the pain, the agony, the suffering, the broken bones, the blood, sweat and tears. I will deal with it now as a spinal-cord-injured person -- fighting through to get to the top once again."

Utley gave his famous "thumbs-up" sign to the Silverdome crowd as he was carried off the field in Nov. 1991. When a doctor told him he would never walk again, Utley ordered the naysayer out of his hospital room.

After two operations, a life-threatening blood clot and thousands of hours of rehabilitation, his attitude remains relentlessly upbeat. At 34, he still wears his hair long and his shirts tie-dyed, and talks bravely of the future.

"I can walk about 20 steps or so," Utley said. "Am I at the point where I can walk off the Silverdome field? No, I'm not. But am I further than any doctor or any therapist gave me a chance to be? You bet I am."

The number for the Mike Utley Foundation is 800-294-4683.

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