Pop Culture Junkette

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Mike Utley Story

I just finished watching a profile featuring the most striking demonstration of determination. After a rerun of Survivor: All Stars, I wasn't paying attention and found myself watching Outdoor Life Network's Fearless, with an episode featuring former Detroit Lions offensive lineman Mike Utley.

I generally know a good bit about sports (much more about baseball and hockey, less about football and particularly basketball, but enough), and I was surprised by just how little I knew of Utley's story. Perhaps growing up in New York, the memory of Utley was overshadowed by that of former New York Jet Dennis Byrd, who suffered a similar injury and recovered. Regardless, it is a story worth knowing.

In 1991, Utley was injured in a game, crushing his 6th and 7th vertebra and being told he was a quadripalegic. In the 14 years since his injury he has regained almost full use of his arms and hands. He skis, scuba and sky dives. And after years of rehabilitation and working his body to its absolute limits, he has regained a limited use of his legs. He relishes his time standing tall, saying "the view at 6'6 is a lot different than the view at 5'2."

When watching the show, you realize that Utley's ability to come so far is a true combination of mental toughness, determination, physical ability and self-certitude. Utley's mind-set is still that of an athletic competitor, setting a series of goals for himself that he has accomplished. His ultimate goal: to return to Ford Field, the site of his injury, and walk off the field under his own power.

I am not one to get too sentimental, but to watch Utley in this piece is truly inspiring. This genre of show tends to veer toward hyperbole, but after watching Utley in action, his doctor's statement that Utley is one of the greatest success in spinal cord injuries seems anything but. Lucky for all of you, the profile re-airs on OLN this Friday from midnight to 1 a.m. So set your DVRs (and maybe bring a tissue or two).

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