INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. - If you’re in search of the way to Da’Shawn Ivey’s heart, just mention football.
The 14-year-old has a smile that radiates from ear to ear, no tooth unseen, as he gushes over his beloved pastime.
His passion for the sport, unfazed, even one year after the injury that ended his young career, initially leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
“With me, it's still sensitive,” his mother Samantha Ivey said. “It hasn't even been a year yet, but it still, it's taking time to process.”
In November 2018, Da’Shawn was playing football for the Sun Valley Spartans in the middle school championship game, when he collided with a teammate during a kickoff return.
The collision shattered his spine.
“When it happened, I was very alert because at the same time my teammate, once I went down, he tried to help me back up, but once he put my arm up, it just fell right back down,” Da’Shawn explained. “I didn't know what to do. I was just so nervous. I was just very, very scared.”
After removing the fragments of bone that remained, doctors placed a dissolvable block in Da’Shawn’s back to hold his spine in place. They also installed a rod in his neck, until that bone is restored.
His mother said their prognosis for him wasn’t good.
“They said his injury was complete, meaning he wouldn't walk again,” she said. "Being that I have faith, I still rely on God. I listen to what the doctors say, but, who knows?”
Since the injury, Da’Shawn is in physical therapy each week, working to regain his strength and soon, his independence.
Initially, the 14-year-old had limited movement beyond his neck.
Today, Da’Shawn is throwing again, shifting his weight and lifting as much as 80 pounds.
“It’s a lot of work,” physical therapist Ryan Medas, of Atrium Health, said. “It takes a lot of practice, and repetition and hard work to get to where DaShawn is. He makes it look easy, but it took a long way to get there.”
“It started off from right there. Learning how to be able to move my own body. Use what I have to help me out with what I don't have at the same time,” added Da’Shawn. “Of course getting the muscle strength back, and just having a positive attitude about it.”
His attitude has been a source of strength for other members of his family and professional athletes.
"I want everyone to know that, this kid, he gives me strength," Panthers cornerback Ross Cockrell said about Da'Shawn.
The two of them began a friendship as Cockrell recovered from a career-threatening injury.
'He said if anybody would be able to conquer this, he said it would be me," Da'Shawn said.
For everything that’s changed for Da’Shawn, what hasn’t is his love for football.
“Even with his injury, football is still football with him,” his mother said. “He told me, he said, 'Ma, if I ever get them back, I'm going back to the field.'"
“I can't deny football,” Da’Shawn added with a smile. “I love it so much.”
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