Their names are linked like connecting dots in a picture of challenge and courage: Curtis Williams Chucky Mullins Brad Gaines.
Curtis Williams and Chucky Mullins are connected by the remarkable parallels in their lives and their deaths.
Both were defensive backs for major college programs Williams with the University of Washington, and Mullins with Ole Miss.
Both suffered paralyzing injuries while playing. Although eleven years apart, both injuries happened on October 28 Mullins in 1989, and Williams in 2000.
And, both died on May 6, and again, like their injuries, their deaths were eleven years apart.
Chucky Mullins and Brad Gaines are connected by one play on that October afternoon in 1989 the play that shattered Chucky Mullins spinal cord, and has forever changed Brad Gaines.
It was a crazy play, says Gaines. I didnt know something was wrong. It was just a great hit. And when there was an injured player down, I didnt think anything of it. But then the minutes went by. The referee said he might have broken his neck.
After the game, Gaines asked reporters about Mullins condition. The doctors didnt think it would be good for Gaines to visit Mullins immediately, but that opportunity soon came.
There were about 100 people standing in the hallway outside his room, said Gaines. And when they saw me, they simply parted and I walked right through the middle of them.
When I walked into the room, my first impression was how horrible it was. But the first thing Chucky said was It wasnt your fault.
For the next months, Chucky Mullins and Brad Gaines saw each other on occasion, and talked periodically on the phone. Most of the time they have spent together has come since May 6, 1991, with Gaines kneeling beside Mullins headstone and cleaning it.
|The first thing Chucky said was, It wasnt your fault.
Three times a year, on October 28, May 6 and Christmas, Brad Gaines makes the trip from Nashville, Tennessee to a cemetery in Russellville, Alabama. For part of an hour, Gaines cleans the grave and the headstone, and remembers Chucky Mullins and that October afternoon and all the things that have transpired since.
I never miss a visit, said Gaines. This is my time with Chucky. It makes me feel better, and gives me chance to reflect. Not being home on Christmas with my own family is tough, but my wife understands Im going to do this forever.
As much as the collision on that football field changed Mullins life, it also changed Gaines. It effectively ended his football career.
The leading receiver in the Southeastern Conference before the accident, Gaines lost his desire for the game. With two brothers having played in the NFL, Gaines had been groomed for football. It was my whole life, he said.
But life changed. Gaines had other things on his mind and heart than football.
It just took the heart out of my football career, he said. After tentative attempts to resurrect his football passion and his boyhood dream, Gaines finally left the game after one season in the Canadian Football League.
|It just took the heart out of my football career.
Now, over the course of years and reflection, Gaines has tried to see the good in that event that linked his name with that of Chucky Mullins.
It makes you appreciate life so much more. It makes you appreciate relationships. Life is so fragile. You have the best athletes in America and just like that, they can be debilitated. It makes you value life.
Brad Gaines carries the memory of Chucky Mullins in his heart, and he carries a message of courage to church and youth groups.
Its about accepting challenges, and finding the courage to face the most difficult challenges that come your way to face those challenges and keep on going.
.finding the courage to face the most difficult challenges that come your way.
Chucky was challenged because of his background. And then he was challenged physically, being paralyzed. But he faced both those things and was strong.
Ive been challenged to find the positive in what happened. I could have felt pity for myself, and probably have struggled with that. But you have to turn it into something thats good. There isnt a day I dont think about what happened, but I dont think about it in a bad way.
Supported by a strong faith in God, Brad Gaines carries the belief that God provides whatever is needed to face the greatest challenges that can be experienced. I dont question why God does things, he said. I just know that some good comes of it, and that He gives me the strength I need.
Indeed - strength to kneel in front of a headstone three times a year and reflect -strength to see the positive in the midst of tragedy - strength to live with more courage than playing football ever required.