Ah, the boys of summer. For much of our nation, football is more than just a sport; it’s a way of life.
For many young men, the chance to play football, even for a high school team, is something they’ve dreamt about since they could toss a ball. The sounds and smells and feel of the Friday night lights shining down are engrained in their souls. These players give the game their all – even to the point of knowing that long-term physical injury is a real possibility.
However, when traumatic injuries do occur on the football field, like spinal cord injury, long-term support hasn’t been there for the players. That’s why the Gridiron Heroes Foundation was created by Chris and Eddie Canales, and this is their story for the cure nation.
Watch the CNN footage below to learn why they recognized GridIron Heroes for their community work:
Chris Canales’ Spinal Cord Injury was the Motivation for Gridiron Heroes
About 15 years ago, Chris Canales was on the field, nearing the end of his very last high school football game when an impact resulted in an injury that changed everything.
Chris was a senior defensive back playing for San Marcos Baptist Academy, and sustained a spinal cord injury during the fourth quarter of his final regular season game. After he was hit, Chris lay motionless on the field for 19 minutes. The next three weeks, he fought for his life. In the months that followed, he battled through rehabilitation trying to gain movement and learning how to function as a quadriplegic.
When he got out of rehab, Chris’s dad, Eddie, became his primary caretaker, and, together, they began figuring out how to navigate all that comes with a spinal cord injury.
Eddie says he noticed things getting more difficult for Chris as they approached the first anniversary of his injury.
Eddie recalls, “It seemed like he started shutting down. He didn’t want to get out of the house or barely eat or anything. I wanted to lift his spirits, so I suggested we go to a football game – a state championship game nearby.”
Watch the Gridiron Heroes Movie:
Maybe a bit reluctantly, Chris agreed to go along. It was his first football experience since the night of his injury and exactly a year later. But, they never could have imagined what was about to happen. Forty-five minutes into the game, Chris and Eddie witnessed something that would effect their lives and their futures in a profound way.
Eddie shares, “As we watched the game, a player was hit and suffered a spinal cord injury on the field, right before our eyes. As soon as my son saw that young man getting put on that cart, he turned to me and he said, ‘we have to help him. I know what he’s going to go through, and you know what his family is going to go through.’ It was like, ok, this is a calling to our purpose – this is our mission.”
Chris and Eddie returned home with their new purpose; determined not only to help the family of the boy who was just injured, but all the others who may be in the same position. And, so it began.
Chris’ injury and the lack of any organized support system for families in similar situations prompted his father, Eddie Canales, the Canales family, and former coach Mike Kipp to begin discussions about the desperate need for an organization for families who were forced to deal with the consequences of this devastating injury.
The Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation was born with the vision of supporting young men injured playing high school football and their families, as well as to educate the football community about the prevalence and reality of SCI.
A 501(C)3 Non-Profit organization, Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation provides immediate, as well as, long term resources and support to individuals sustaining a catastrophic spinal cord injury through activities associated with high school football.
The Gridiron Heroes SCI Foundation Gets Off to a Great Start
In the beginning, Chris and Eddie were simply following their hearts to help others and didn’t know where it would lead. Eddie recalls, “When we started, it wasn’t so much about raising funds, it was more about just being there for the families. We noticed, although there is a strong connection in the football community and initially, there is usually some help from the community, what we’ve found is that after these kids graduate from high school, there’s no help.”
Around the same time that the Gridiron Heroes Foundation was getting going, director Peter Berg was in Texas doing research for an upcoming movie that would involve a high school football player getting injured.
The film was Friday Night Lights (2004) and Chris and Eddie had the opportunity to share their experience for the actors.
The energy around the movie and the common vision to educate people about high school football injuries made for a positive collaboration.
Eddie says, “We built a rapport with the cast and crew from Friday Night Lights. In fact, our very first fundraiser for the Gridiron Heroes Foundation was incorporated into their wrap party when they completed filming. It was extremely successful and many of those actors, including Tim McGraw, still support us.”A few years later, the concept of the film was developed into the popular TV show, Friday Night Lights, and Chris and Eddie were invited to work with the writers and even make a few cameos!
Gridiron Heroes Continues to Grow, Helping SCI Families Nationwide
Today, Chris and Eddie have offered post-SCI support to over 30 young men and their families in Texas, and 50 more across the U.S.
Their assistance ranges from financial support, helping purchase equipment and modify homes, to help navigating the social security system, to late night phone calls when a caretaker needs to vent about caregiving complications.
They’ve been able to purchase 15 wheelchair-accessible vehicles for families in need.
“We really help them through the entire process,” Eddie explains. “Some don’t even know who their case manager is, or what sort of benefits they should be signing up for. That’s our initial response when we get the call – to guide them through the process. Right away, someone in that family needs to be able to start looking at what the next steps are [after rehab]. But, unless you’ve gone through this process, people aren’t aware what they’re going to need. It’s often very scary for the families.”
Chris and Eddie also do a lot of education among professionals in the football industry, including attending coaching clinics to talk with coaches and trainers, and visiting schools. Raising awareness about spinal cord injuries in high school football isn’t always easy, though.
Gridiron Heroes Forces the Difficult Conversations About the Dangers of Football
“What we’ve found that in the football community is that it is a very hard process trying to get people to talk about these types of injuries,” Eddie reveals. “From the NFL, all the way down, they kind of keep it out of sight, out of mind. But, what we want coaches to understand, is that all these young men that have been injured playing football, they still LOVE the game of football. They don’t blame the game, they still keep up with it.”
It seems that no one really wants to talk about these type of injuries, so it’s been a tough, tough process trying to raise funds and have the conversations.
At this point, the foundation has more requests than they have the capacity to handle – and it mostly comes down to funding. What’s disappointing is the amount of money that even the high school football industry spends on facilities and special uniforms is astronomical, but raising funds for something that makes people uncomfortable makes it a challenge.
Eddies says, “They’re building $60-$75 million dollar high school football facilities, and we have to constantly struggle to get funding or to even have these discussions.”At the end of the day, Eddie believes that the work they’re doing through Gridiron Heroes is a necessary evil. While, it’s not an easy conversation to have for many, the Canales family will continue educating and motivating others to create a safer sport and a better support system for those that are injured.
We hope you will take a minute to enjoy the Gridiron Heroes documentary! All proceeds from movie sales go to fund Gridiron Heroes programs for families affected by SCI.
The movie stars more than 50 famous celebrities and football legends, including: Al Michaels, Jerry Jones, Taylor Kitsch, Brett Favre, Drew Pinsky, Holly Robinson Peete, Piers Morgan, Kurt Warner, Laura Dern, Brad Leland, Rex Linn, Rick Fox, ‘Sully’ Charles Sullenberger, Scott Porter, Lamarcus Tinker, Brian Bosworth, Paul Williams, Marcus Riley, Ryan Colburn, Coach Jeff Leets, Coach Bobby Hosea, Coach John Gagliardi, Coach Mike Ditka, Alan Schwarz and Deacon Jones.
Eddie Shares His Two Cents on Cure Medical
Eddie thinks it’s great that Cure Medical is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with SCI too!
He says, “We are thrilled that Cure offers resources for living today — in the here and now — with SCI. We’re adding their free books for the Cure Nation to our foundation website as a helpful resource. Thank you, Cure Medical, for sharing our story with your community!”Cure Medical has made an unsurpassed, permanent Cure Commitment to donate 10% of net income to medical research in pursuit of a cure for spinal cord injuries and central nervous system disorders.
That means when you choose any Cure Medical product for routine intermittent catheterization, you are also helping to fund research for a cure.
To request free samples of the Cure Catheter® or any Cure Medical catheter, contact your local distributor of quality healthcare products, or click here.
Enjoy Our Free Resources & Articles
CURE NATION is designed with you in mind, to offer assistance and education when you need it through a personal support program.
View more of our articles about Spinal Cord Injury here.
All of the information you find below and on our related social media pages is meant to guide you to places, topics and resources that enhance your life, while also connecting you with a growing group of friends.
- Sign up for our free, CURE NATION e-newsletter to have our latest stories delivered directly to you, once a month.
- Get our FREE LIFESTYLE + ACCESSIBLE TRAVEL BOOKS here.
- Meet us in person at a CURE NATION event.
- Have an idea you’d like to share? Let us know.
- Be sure to take minute to meet our Cure Advocates too.