Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Ryan Shazier, father Vernon trusting God's recovery plan two years after paralysis

It’s been two years since Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier laid motionless after a hit on Dec. 4, 2017. The play didn’t seem dramatic — a Bengals receiver runs a standard crossing route across the middle of the field, and Shazier moves in and makes a clean tackle. By NFL standards it seems pretty straightforward. Tame, even.

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Until Shazier stays down, holding his lower back, his legs not moving. That’s when Shazier’s mother, Shawn, called her husband and Ryan’s father, Vernon, who was finishing up a meeting at the church he pastored, River of Life Fellowship in Coral Springs, Fla. At first Vernon texted her that he was in a meeting, but eventually he picked up her call.

“Ryan’s hurt, he’s not moving!” Shawn said, as detailed recently by Sports Illustrated. As Vernon grabbed his briefcase and rushed to his car, his phone buzzed again, this time from Ryan. “Daddy, pray for me,” Vernon remembers Ryan screaming. “I can’t feel my legs.”

As his son prepared for emergency surgery, Vernon ducked away and sobbed, telling himself, Vernon, you have to decide whether you believe or don’t believe what you’ve been teaching and preaching about God.

In the past couple years, Ryan, a former first-round draft pick, has struggled to simply walk again. But in April 2018, Ryan stunned the nation when he walked out at the NFL Draft to announce the Steelers’ pick, and he has gone viral doing box jumps and dreaming about a full recovery.

Last week, Ryan wrote on Instagram, “Today has truly been a blessing. It’s been two years since I was injured. As the night comes to an end, I’m reflecting on how truly bittersweet this moment is because of how far I’ve come. I want to thank everyone who has been lifting me up and keeping me in their prayers. One thing I will promise you- I’m not going to stop. So keep Shalieving!!! God has a plan.”

While Vernon has struggled to understand why God allowed this injury to happen, he has found his faith strengthened as he’s gone “all in” on believing in Ryan’s recovery.

“We’re talking about where he was totally paralyzed from the waist down,” Vernon told Sports Illustrated. “They said he’d probably never be able to walk again. He’s not 100 percent. But he’s on his way back.”

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