"One day I was a normal kid - thinking about school, sports and girls. The next thing you know, I'm out there talking to people about paralysis. My goal is to get everyone out of these chairs." - Marc Buoniconti.
Marc Buoniconti was only 19 when his normal world of school, sports and girls came crashing down. He wound up a quadriplegic, his neck broken.
That terrifying incident was 10 years ago, and Buoniconti faced a long, agonizing recovery, with no hope of walking again.
Now, thanks to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, there is hope.
On Thursday, the 10th anniversary of Buoniconti's near-fatal injury, ground will be broken by the Miami Project on the campus of the University of Miami School of Medicine-Jackson Memorial Center for a research facility for spinal cord injuries.
"It's not a celebration, because you can't celebrate something like this," said the 29-year-old son of Nick Buoniconti, the former All-Pro linebacker for the Miami Dolphins and Boston Patriots. "But it will be a commemoration."
It was Oct. 26, 1985, when Marc Buoniconti, then a robust and healthy 220-pound middle linebacker for the Citadel, went out to play against East Tennessee State.
Unlike actor Christopher Reeve, who remembers nothing of the recent accident that resulted in his paralysis, Buoniconti recalls his vividly.
"It was on an option play, a fake to the fullback, on a third-and-one situation," he said. "He (the quarterback) pitched it instead, and it was a sweep. The center tried to cut me, but I fought off the block. In retrospect, I wish he had cut me.
"I was coming up to make the tackle. Another linebacker also hit him. It was a simultaneous impact. He was going for the first down and we stopped him as he was in the air.
"His body was flipping around and it hit my head. My body rolled over, and I saw my arm fall to the turf. Had it not been connected to my shoulder, I wouldn't have known it was my arm.
"I knew immediately I was paralyzed."
Buoniconti spent a year in a hospital and was on a ventilator for eight months. "I couldn't breathe without it," he said.
"One minute I was in the best shape of my life, the next minute I was fighting for it," Buoniconti said.
He had sustained a broken C-3 vertebra, a severe spinal cord injury that would leave him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
"I'm not bitter," Buoniconti said. "I love the game, and I still have great respect for the Citadel."
That respect could have been shattered by the accident. Buoniconti had gone into the East Tennessee State game with a neck injury, suffered about a month earlier.
"It was getting progressively worse," he said. "I should never have been allowed on the field. …