CHAMPAIGN — At a time when most of us are feeling sorry for ourselves, the Bobby Roundtree story should serve as an inspiration.
Roundtree, a former defensive end for the Illinois Fighting Illini, suffered a severe spinal injury about a year ago during a swimming accident near his hometown of Largo, Fla.
“I try not to remember what happened a year ago or any of that,’’ said Roundtree, who spoke with media on Friday via a Zoom call. “I want to think positive. I don’t want to have any negative thoughts.’’
That’s how Roundtree has approached his rehabilitation, posting videos on social media of his progress. The first came on Dec. 20, 2019, showing Roundtree doing pushups as the Shirley Ryan Agility Lab in Chicago.
“I was like maybe I should get back out there and show everyone that this isn’t going to beat me and keep me in a shell,’’ he said. “I was basically trying to give out a message to keep pushing.’’
The videos have continued as he is now back in Champaign, rehabbing at the Disability Resources and Educational Services building on campus, along with every other week at Carle Foundation Hospital.
And just how much progress has Roundtree made in the past 12 months? He has the strength to push himself around in a manual wheelchair.
“I just want to show everybody that anything is possible,’’ Roundtree said. “I want to show everyone that this injury isn’t going to overcome me. I’m going to beat this and I’m going to be successful.
“One thing that’s always been in the back of my mind since I got hurt was that God always gives his hardest battles to his strongest warriors,’’ he added. “I’m grateful that I’m still here and able to get stronger every day. I’m grateful to have my family, my mom and the whole Illini Nation behind me. It’s going to happen.’’
Roundtree’s amazing outlook and his perseverance doesn’t stop with just being able to get around in a wheelchair. The 22-year-old has much bigger plans for himself.
“I see myself walking again, traveling with my mom, maybe even coaching or starting a rehab center or something,’’ he said. “I want to do something that’s going to help people ... I want to show everybody that anything is possible no matter the situation.’’
Illinois football trainer Jeremy Busch acknowledges that Roundtree is an inspiration.
“He will push the limits at all times,’’ Busch said. “He is never satisfied. He’s got a natural-born gift and that’s been, probably, the biggest blessing for all of us to watch.’’
Before his accident, Roundtree was considered an NFL prospect after recording 116 tackles including 16.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in his two seasons with Illinois.
“Always have a backup plan,’’ Roundtree said. “I got hurt. One door close and one more opened. This has taught me that I’m a strong young man and I’ve still got goals to reach — and I will reach them.
“It’s been a long ride and it’s not finished yet.’’