The Tragedy and Triumph of Matthew Blaylock

1:19 AM, Nov 13, 2010   |    comments
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We first told you about Cherokee High School football star Matthew Blaylock last year.

Blaylock was paralyzed from the waist down after he dove into the shallow end of a community pool the night before graduation.

Since then, he's come a long way.

As a running back for Cherokee, Blaylock broke a numerous amount of school records -- and for a long time was getting recruited at the next level.

"I was getting letters from Vanderbilt, Marshall, Auburn, and Alabama," recalls Blaylock. "But my head got blown up, and I was ego-trippin'. My ego was to the roof."

And that's when this church-going honor student started drifting in a different direction. He began partying, losing focus, and seeing his grades slip -- and eventually, seeing those letters from the big-time colleges disappear.

"I just thought I was above the law," Blaylock says. "I just thought I could do whatever I wanted and get away with it."

Plenty of teenagers make similar mistakes. But very few pay the price Blaylock paid after one big mistake, the night before graduation.

Blaylock says he had been drinking with some friends that day; then they went to a graduation party at the community pool. It was there that Blaylock dove into the shallow end, hit his head, and broke his C-4 and C-5 vertebrae.

When he woke up at the hospital, he couldn't breathe.

"They had him hooked up to a ventilation machine to help him breathe," recalls his mother, Carla Clendenon. "And I said, 'Oh my God, he's not breathing on his own?'

"All that went through my head was, 'What are we gonna do?'"

The past 18 months have been focused on recovery. Blaylock eventually left the Shepherd Center and regained the ability to breathe without a ventilator. Now he's working on regaining movement in his arms and legs.

He has also taken on a new role: as a speaker and mentor.

Blaylock spent the past football season as an honorary coach for the Cherokee high school squad. He says he spent more time talking with the players about the right decision-making in life -- as opposed to in football.

He has also spoken several times at events for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

"I'm not gonna sit there and preach to them every day, you know, 'Don't do this; don't do that,'" says Blaylock. "I just let them know, if you're not careful, this could happen to you."

And every time he speaks about his story, he relives the mistakes he made while showing the positivity and strength that allowed him to overcome them.

"When you get faced with something that's hard," he says, "push on. And good things will come."

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