ATLANTA, GA. – Gridiron Heroes was recently recipients of the Point of Lights Award. President George Bush created the “Daily Point of Light Award” in 1989 to recognize ordinary Americans from all walks of life taking direct and consequential voluntary action in their communities to solve serious social problems. The President focused great attention on these individuals and organizations, both to honor them for their work and to call the nation to join them and multiply their efforts. By the end of his administration, President Bush had recognized 1,020 Daily Points of Light representing all fifty states and addressing issues ranging from care for infants and teenagers with AIDS to adult illiteracy and from gang violence to job training for homeless people. The Daily Point of Light continues to be awarded by Points of Light and President Bush continues to sign all of the awards
Information from Points of Light website
For a year after the accident that left him paralyzed in the final four minutes of his last regular season football game, Chris Canales struggled with a dark depression. “My whole life was about playing college football,” he recalled. “It was a hard pill to swallow.”
Then his dad took him to his first football game since the accident, Everman High School’s bid for the Class 3A Division I state championship at the San Antonio Alamodome. During that game, he saw a player, Corey Fulbright, go down. “I said to my mom and dad, we have to do something, we have to help him and his family with what they’re going to be dealing with,” recalled Chris, now 32.
That shift in focus, from his own injury to the spinal injury suffered by another football player, was a turning point for Chris. It was also the genesis of The Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation, the non-profit Chris founded with his dad and caregiver, Eddie Canales.
“That first year was tough on all of us,” recalled Eddie. “We’d almost lost Chris three times. We could see the depression taking over. All we could offer him is that if the lord wanted him by his side, he had three chances. He was still here for a reason. Being at that game and seeing Corey get hurt – that was the reason – to help him and his family. That’s what the lord intended us to do.”
It’s been 14 years since that game changer for Chris. With the help of his grandfather, a retired grant writer, Gridiron Heroes was launched with $10,000 in funding. “And we’ve never looked back,” said Eddie
Gridiron Heroes provides immediate as well as long-term resources and support to players struck down with a catastrophic spinal cord injury through activities associated with high school football. This outreach ranges from personally going to the hospital to be with the injured player and his family to providing wheelchair-accessible vans, organizing training clinics and lobbying for safer tackling techniques.
Loving the game of football isn’t at cross-purposes with the work they do, explained Eddie. “We don’t want to deter anyone who loves the game from playing football. There is a greater chance of being hurt in a car accident than on the football field – yet we don’t keep our kids from driving. We just need to do a better job keeping the players safe on the field.”
And just like on the battlefield, when a soldier’s mission is to never leave a fallen comrade behind, these fallen athletes can’t be forgotten, added Eddie.
“There’s help for the first six months or so, but then it dwindles. Once high school is over, the families have to fight and scramble for everything they need.”
To date, Gridiron Heroes has provided financial and moral support to 72 injured players around the country. Chris and Eddie drive to wherever they need to be to support the family and mentor the fallen athlete. They are always just a phone call away.
“Families need information, they need to prepare for the worst and be ready to help their son or daughter. It happens so fast. They get out of rehab and the caregivers have to deal with pressure sores and bladder control and where to get supplies. It doesn’t sink in until you live it every day.”
Connecting with other injured players was hard for Chris at first – “I would relive my injury all over again,” he said. But as time went on, I stopped thinking about myself and started thinking about them.”
Points of Light was formed in 2007 by the merger of the Points of Light Foundation and Hands On Network. Encouraged by major donors and affiliates, the two organizations merged with the goal of strengthening volunteerism, streamlining costs and services and deepening impact.
The Points of Light Foundation was created in 1990 as a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. to promote the spirit of volunteerism described by U.S. President George H. W. Bush in his 1989 inaugural address, “I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good.”
President Bush used the “thousand points of light” theme frequently, including in his 1991 State of the Union address in which he said:
We have within our reach the promise of a renewed America. We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light. And it is expressed by all who know the irresistible force of a child’s hand, of a friend who stands by you and stays there, a volunteer’s generous gesture, an idea that is simply right.
Gridiron Heroes Spinal Cord Injury Foundation was formed in 2003 with a specific mission: To provide immediate, as well as, long term resources and support to individuals sustaining catastrophic spinal cord injury through activities associated with high school football.