Mac is a very special friend of mine. I was introduced to him at a young age when Mac‘s Dad was my head football coach. As I grew and joined the Military, I always tried to keep up to date on what the Graff family was doing. I was torn apart when I heard Mac had a freak accident while enjoying a morning deer hunt right after a great football win as the head quarterback for his High School Team. However, I knew that Mac was a determined fighter and would not allow an accident of this nature slow him down or stop him from reaching his goals in life. I was adamant that I visit MacDaniel in the hospital in Spokane when he was first injured. I thought I could encourage and share with him, but it was me who left inspired and encouraged. I could tell he had so much fight and tenacity, I knew he would go on to accomplish great things and empower many others.
What a remarkable young man and example for all of us. It is this attitude that I and all should constantly fight for every day. Keep fighting the good fight!
Can you tell us about your accident?
I was 17 when my life changed. I got up early Saturday, September 13, 2014, to lift weights after playing a great football game in Wenatchee the night before. My father is the coach at Chiawana High School so when he was done with film and I was done lifting we took off to our favorite spot to bow hunt deer. I loved to play football, basketball, and baseball, but I really love to hunt! I climbed up in my tree stand and sat there for a few hours before a deer came. I sat long enough with gas station food in my belly that I had to go to the bathroom. I stood up to go and lost my balance. I fell 12 feet, flat on my back. As soon as I hit the ground I couldn’t feel my legs. I had shooting pain up my back, I knew I was in serious trouble. I immediately realized I needed to prepare myself to be there for several hours. Initially, I was still thinking about the hunt and didn’t want to ruin my dad’s and our buddy’s hunt by making noise. But soon it became clear that my injury was serious because I could hardly bare the pain. At the same time, I wanted to stay calm and rational. I remember an overwhelming moment of thoughts running through my head. I thought about not playing another game of football and before I let too much panic set in I snapped out of it and started thinking “what can I do now?” My plan was to yell, Tony – Dad – Chandler every 5 minutes in hope that they heard me.
Finally, my dad’s good friend Tony who was 100 yards from me in another tree stand answered, ”what?” and I answered back “I fell out of my tree, I can’t feel my legs”. He immediately called 9-11 and then my dad as he made his way over to me. I was taken by ambulance to Walla Walla and airlifted to Kadlec Hospital in Richland. When I arrived in the Emergency Room I was met by my Young Life leader, closest friends, and my parents.
Right then I decided I was going to face this challenge head-on. The first thing they all heard from me was “please save my ghillie suit’. That statement lifted their spirits and that’s how I’ve continued to go about living my life. The next day I had a 5-hour surgery to fuse my T11 and T12 vertebrae and realign my dislodged spinal cord. I spent 30 days at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute learning how to become independent in every way.
What was your biggest challenge in the first months after the injury?
The biggest challenge I endured the first few months was taking a shower, figuring out my bathroom routine and how to function living life in a wheelchair.
Was there a moment or experience that gave you hope to endure? Or what gives you strength to move on after something so difficult?
I returned home on Oct. 24th to begin my new normal and watch my teammates. I went to all their practices and games and traveled with them to the State Championship. It helped me stay involved for the next two years and accept a new role as a supporting teammate. I loved playing sports and being competitive with my teammates and my brothers. It has also been important to me be a part of a team. It builds character, loyalty and together you can achieve great things. Being a part of a team is like family. Through thick and thin you have each other’s back. Sports has taught me to have a solid work ethic and to be a leader in the classroom; on the field and in anything I do in life. My parents, coaches, and teachers have helped me develop into a strong young man who has a bright future to inspire and lead by example. My experience with athletics and hard work has helped me persevere through tough times and has had a huge impact on how I have dealt with my life-changing injury.
When bad things happen to you now, what do you tell yourself or what do you do?
Life has been very different since becoming paralyzed from the waist down. But I haven’t given up so far and don’t plan on it in the future. I realize that life is full of adversity and every day now I face challenges just to function independently. Daily routines that we take for granted are now hard and I am constantly adjusting physically and mentally. My family and friends have always and continue to be there for me. Even though my injury happened to me it also happened to them. I would not be as independent without their support. I appreciate everything they do for me and my advice to anyone struggling with pain or tragedy is that you can’t do it alone. You have to have a “team”.
I was also fortunate that GRAFFSTRONG became the battle cry when I got hurt and an entire community joined my team. When I could no longer play the sports I loved, I found new ones. I turned out for track and learned to be a thrower and started golfing. I still hunt and fish however now that just takes more planning. I feel a sense of accomplishment graduating from Columbia Basin College last Spring with my AA just one year out of high school. And now I am attending Gonzaga University and work as a manager for the basketball team.
It hasn’t been easy but I choose to move forward every day. My philosophy now is to: Go every play like it’s going to be your last, and live every day so you don’t regret the past. In this world, we all play a part, so play the game of life . . . with heart.
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