This is a guest submission from Mike Bernos, a writer, essayist and public relations professional.
Even in a wheelchair, Patric Young is a hulking presence.
His ripped torso fronts a 250-pound, 6-foot-9-inch frame that once dominated Southeastern Conference basketball opponents as a two-time All-SEC forward and Defensive Player of the Year at the University of Florida before signing with the New Orleans Pelicans and eventually competing professionally in Europe.
It is a chilly mid-November day in 2022, and he is about to give his first motivational speech at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Corporate Headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s not the speech he ever saw himself giving even a year ago.
A car accident in July in Nebraska damaged Young’s T-7 and T-8 vertebrae, which resulted in losing the use of his lower body. The mishap occurred a week before he was to be married.
Instead of nuptials in a church where he would be standing blissfully next to his bride, the ceremony was held in the courtyard of the hospital where he recovered from his 8-hour surgery to repair damage to his shoulders, ribs and spine. Instead of embarking on a honeymoon, he returned to a grueling regimen of physical therapy that included how not to have bathroom accidents.
Patric Young had been more than a dominating forward in the SEC; he also earned Academic All-American status and became the SEC’s first three-time Scholar Athlete of the Year. Those credentials and an effervescent smile served him well when he finished his playing career. Young became a basketball analyst for the SEC Network and took a job with a sports marketing firm.
Nowhere in a conversation with Young is a hint of self-aggrandizement nor a reminder — lest you forget who you are with — of his athletic accomplishments. Contrary to the bloated egos of many professional athletes, he is humble and defers to the knowledge offered by his broadcasting buddies and colleagues.
Until his fateful accident, his future was bright. Now, he must summon the strength from his unshakeable Christian faith to determine his way forward as well as what arcane lessons the tragedy will yield.
I have always envisioned that one day I would have a message to tell the world, I just did not know the ‘why.’– Patric Young
It has not been easy, but Young has yet to let a splinter of self-pity graft to his soul. No residue of resentment clouds his resilient attitude. As a guest on the Paul Finebaum Show, as well as others in which he has been interviewed, he says he will not be defined by his accident. During a 37-day stay at Craig Hospital in Denver, he proved an uplifting spirit to those around him.
“There’s multiple aspects to it,” Young said in September to Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union of how he deals with being in a wheelchair and potentially facing life as a paraplegic. “First and foremost, you acknowledge and see that the type of person you are before experiencing a life crisis, or something along those lines, usually is something that goes to another level.
“If you’re a pessimistic, negative person prior to something like this happening, it’s only going to be exemplified and vice versa. Because I’ve always been such a positive guy, it’s helped me remain in that stance where I am able to see that silver lining.
“This is what I want people to understand: every part of me that makes me Patric Young is still there.”
Speaking with Young reveals that if there is redemption to be found in this tragedy, he will discover it and help others understand it as well.
After his professional career, Young intended to do public speaking.
“I have always envisioned that one day I would have a message to tell the world, I just did not know the ‘why,’” Young said. “I assumed that one day it would just come to me and there I would be. Never did I imagine that I would have to face a tragedy for this to become a reality.”
His ease in front of an audience can be seen in how comfortable he navigates his role as an astute college basketball analyst for the SEC Network. His communications professor at the University of Florida, Dr. Ed Kellerman — with whom he remains friends — says that Young is a natural.
Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need.’Joseph Campbell
“Patric was a very good speaker in my classes, but his commanding presence and confidence on SEC Network broadcasts have shaped him into a compelling speaker,” he said. “Wait ‘til you hear him and see that million-dollar smile.”
Whatever subject Young had intended to address as a motivational speaker has now, ironically, been determined by fate. Moreover, he has, as the author Joseph Campbell said, come to embrace his situation.
“Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need,’” Campbell said. “It may look like a wreck but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge.
“Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.”
Young isn’t about to let the cards he has been dealt define him. If anything, he recognizes the opportunity he has “to turn this mess into a message,” he said.
The audience has filled their seats at the Sullins auditorium on the J&J campus.
“Welcome,” Young says. And so begins his new journey.