Severely injured football star won't quit: 'I'm going to walk again'

SEATTLE -- It's built into us, an instinct as fundamental as breathing. We lift ourselves and rise up. We stand tall and we walk.

Think of little babies, tripping and stumbling but fighting to stand, pulling themselves up, and then, with arms waving and head wagging, they take those first halting steps.

It's what we humans do. We stand up and walk.

Ten years ago, Logan Seelye was a star football player for Spanaway Lake High School. He played running back and safety, one of those guys that everybody figured would play college ball. He had the feel for the game that coaches love. His teammates voted him team captain as a sophomore. Boise State and the University of Washington were interested.

There is some old video tape of him in action, and he pops off the screen, breaking tackles and scoring a touchdown one minute, grabbing an interception and taking it all the way back for a score the next.

Those plays are all locked up in his mind even now. He cherishes them and visits them often.

Sitting in his living room on now,Logan hasn't changed much really. He still has the closely cropped hair and the steel blue eyes. And he still has the same strange quality I noticed the first time I met him in 2003: When he says something, you believe him. You can't help it.

"I've had very real dreams," he says matter of factly, "where I feel like I'm in high school getting ready to go play football. And right before we get out onto the field I wake up."

He smiles a little when he says it. It's a smile of resignation and sadness and, on some level, acceptance.

"And then it's, 'Oh yeah, back to reality.'"

The smile slips away.

Reality is a wheelchair. Reality is a broken neck with a fractured 6th vertebrae and a dislocated 5th. Reality is being a quadriplegic.

It was a summer day a decade ago at a football camp in Ellensburg. There is videotape of this, too. It was a pass play. Logan was playing safety. He zeroed in on the receiver, lowered his head and delivered the hit. The ball popped loose, a teammate picked it up and took off for the end zone.

Only Logan didn't get up.

John Robak was his coach. He ran onto the field. Logan looked up at him and said, "Coach, I can't feel my body. My body's on fire."

The coach will never forget those words. He shakes his head.

"Right there you go, 'woah,'" he said.

Afterwards, in the hospital, his pretty girlfriend Jordan, the girl who wore his letterman's jacket, came to visit him.

"The first thing I said to her was, 'Do you still love me?' I don't know why I said that," Logan said.

He had another question for his dad, Dan Seelye. I interviewed Dan a few weeks after the accident in 2003.

He remembered the question: "Will I ever walk again?' And my answer was emphatically, 'yes'."

And so the tone was set. Logan would walk again. He set about working -- to lift himself and rise up.

He would lay on a mat and grapple with his own body, sweating and grunting just to pull his lifeless legs to one side. He would try to raise himself out of his chair by pushing against two wooden rails. This young man's struggle was awe inspiring. It was also heartbreaking.

Still, he swore it to me and to anyone who would listen: "I will walk again." He said it over and over again. Against all logic, I believed him.

I look back at the interview I did with him, and I marvel at the optimism of youth.

"You don't even seem scared to me at all," I said.

"No," he said, "because I know I'm going to be better," and he said it flatly, evenly like it was a given, "so there's no need to be scared."

And so, 10 years have gone by since that meeting. Ten years of 5 a.m. workouts,10 years of a young man pushing himself and fighting himself and wanting something very badly.

It's 2011, and all the seniors at Central Washington University are wearing caps and gowns in Ellensburg. A speaker is announced. He doesn't get up, and instead reads his speech from a wheelchair.

"My name is Logan Seelye," he says, "and I will be your commencement speaker for this long awaited day."

Many of his fellow students knew his story already.

"As I was talking to a doctor I asked him where my life was going due to this injury. With a bold face he looked at me and said you will never walk again, or have feeling or movement," he said.

The next line is pure Logan: "As he walked away I thought to myself, 'This guy must be crazy to think I believe that.'"

You could hear a pin drop in Ellensburg. Then he married Jordan, the girl in his letterman's jacket. He had his answer to the question he asked that day in the hospital.

He got out of his chair and leaned on her for their first dance on his wedding night. They've been balancing each other ever since.

Jordan can't hide her admiration when she talks about him.

"He's like my hero, my husband, my best friend, and now he's the father to our daughter," she said.

Yes, baby Skyler was born a year ago. Jordan smiles at him when she says, "I think he's an awesome person. I don't know where I'd be without him, really."

Logan works as a web designer at Pacific Lutheran University. He and Jordan's lives are full and happy.

Still, there has always been the one nagging thing.

"From the day I was hurt to now, it's never been a question in my mind. It's always been, 'I'm going to walk again!" he says.

His fight to rise up continues.

"When my daughter gets older and decides to get married, it'd be nice to walk her down the aisle," he says.

He has a walker that he leans on when he's not in his wheelchair. He pushes it a few inches at a time, then drags first one foot, then the other forward. Every time, the right toe drags on the ground. No matter how hard Logan works, no matter how much he wants, there just isn't the strength to lift it.

Logan has been driving for years. He has a gas pedal rigged up so he can press it with his left foot. And on this, the 10th anniversary of the day of his accident, he drove to a place called Hanger Clinic, in Tacoma.

He painstakingly unfolded his wheelchair, slipped into it and rolled into the office. A man named AJ Westford uses velcro to strap a small transmitter onto his right leg about mid-calf. There is a beep.

Logan can afford to be here because not long ago he raised $20,000 in a fundraiser. The goal was to be able to purchase the transmitter, which is called "WalkRite."

AJ Westford calls it a "brain in a box."

The idea is that it will send out an electrical impulse to electrodes that have been placed on and around the nerves that he can no longer trigger with his brain. At a certain point during each step, the WalkRite will send out an impulse which will hit the nerve, which will in turn lift the foot up enough so it doesn't drag on the ground.

Logan explains, saying, "It's just an electrical stimulus."

AJ watches a monitor, which tells him precisely when the impulse is being sent.

"I can see when it's turning on and off, " he says.

As he prepares to attempt walking, Logan says, "Hey, if I fall...get up. That's a cliche, but it's also reality. If I fall I gotta get back up. It's scary but it's also very exciting."

After some trial and error, after adjustments and calculations, he's ready. Logan grips the two rails and pulls himself out of the chair, leaning his weight on the supports.

He takes a deep breathe. Mutters something to himself. Removes his hands from the rails. And takes a step. We hear a beep as the device sends out its electrical impulse. The right foot lifts up just enough. He takes another step. And then another.

He's working hard. Breathing heavy. Concentrating fiercely. After three or four steps he grabs the rails again, steadies himself, and keeps walking. He does it over and over til he can barely stand anymore.

AJ is ecstatic. "I'm excited for you!" he says.

Logan shakes his hands, "Yeah, man. I appreciate it."

It's a step. Several steps, really, in a long, long journey that started ten years ago at a football camp in Ellensburg. It's built into us, really. An instinct, really. To rise up and stand tall.

When we see it in baby, we marvel at the sheer possibility those first steps represent. The bright future, the soaring spirit of the soul.

When we see it in Logan Seelye we marvel at the same thing. It's what we humans do. We stand up and walk.
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