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Paralyzed at 16, he was told he'd never walk again. 12 years later, he walked to get his diploma

"They said there was barely a chance for me to walk because my spinal cord was damaged so badly," said Corey. "But I was ready to walk."

Paralyzed at 16, he was told he'd never walk again. 12 years later, he walked to get his diploma
Cover Image Source: Instagram/Corey Borner

The last time Corey Borner's mother, Charlotte Borner, saw him running was on the morning of May 6, 2009. "You miss that bus, I'm not taking you to school," she warned him as the then-16-year-old sprinted to catch the school bus. Little did they know that just hours later, a routine football practice session at Corey's Dallas-area high school would turn his life upside down. Trying to earn a spot on the varsity team for the following season, the freshman cornerback had given his all to spring practices in DeSoto, Texas, and on that fateful day, urged his coach to keep it going. "One more play," he told the coach, Corey recalled.


As "Deuce 84 P-Bubble and Up" was called as the final play of practice, the teen lowered his head and dived at the wide receiver's stomach to tackle him to the ground. However, when his teammates came over to congratulate him on the hit, Corey asked them not to touch him. He couldn't feel anything from his head to his feet and as he lay motionless on the field at DeSoto High School, he had one thought run through his mind over and over again: "God, be with me."


Speaking to The Washington Post about the incident, Corey explained that although he was surprised at the lack of sensation from his neck down, he was reassured when his coaches, trainers, and the paramedics told him that he was going to be okay. "I thought I'd be at practice the next day; I wasn't really worried about it," he said. "But then I saw my picture on the news. You see yourself on the news and wonder, 'Why am I on TV?'" Doctors informed Corey and his family that he had suffered a severe spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Many were skeptical that he would walk again.


"They said there was barely a chance for me to walk because my spinal cord was damaged so badly," said Corey, now 28. "But I was ready to walk. I told myself that I would be out of this chair in no time." In a nine-hours-long surgery the day after the "freak accident," doctors fused his C5 and C6 vertebrae to help relieve pressure on his spinal cord. When they told Corey that he would need to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life, the then-teen was understandably devastated as he couldn't envision what his future would look like. However, he refused to give up and soon mustered his will to forge a new path for himself.


With the encouragement of former NFL players Tim Brown and Ellis Hobbs who urged him to share his story, Corey became a motivational speaker. He also went back to school and graduated in 2013, following which he joined the University of North Texas at Dallas as a communication major. "The most challenging part was just being accepted and figuring out what people were going to say about me," he said. "If someone said I wasn't going to walk, I was going to have words with them."


Meanwhile, Corey's dream of walking again grew stronger when his doctor at the Baylor Scott & White Health Institute for Rehabilitation asked him whether he had seen an exoskeleton suit before. Although he'd only seen such a device on YouTube, Corey agreed to give it a try if it meant possibly walking again. "My mom was like, 'Stay strong and keep the faith. Just believe you'll be able to get in it,'" he recalled. Over a decade later, his dream came true.


Last weekend — 12 years after the tackle that left him paralyzed — Corey surprised family members and friends by walking across the graduation stage with the help of a suit from Ekso Bionics to receive his college diploma. "This is the biggest moment in my life! I will continue to never give up and inspire the world with my testimony," he tweeted, along with a video of him walking at commencement. "I walked again!" 


Speaking to KXAS about the unforgettable moment, Corey's mom, Charlotte, said: "It's just a dream come true. I haven't seen him take a step in 12 years. Whether he was able to even do this or not, you know, I know he's going to do something that is positive. He's going to motivate people. He's here for a reason. God kept him here for a reason." 

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