Alliance Profile - Leroy Collins
Former NFL Player and Current President of the Upstate Chapter of The NFL Alumni Association
What past life experiences, physical traumas or genetics do you believe have had an effect on your mental health?
When I was six yrs old I was struck, run over & dragged by a delivery truck while playing outside w my little brother & cousins. My little brother was hit first & left w severely broken bones. When the truck stopped I was left barely alive. My injuries were severe &long lasting, both physical & mental. My pelvis & skull were crushed, my legs & ribs broken. 40% of my skin was gone. Surviving the accident was a miracle. The recovery to follow was a journey of faith & perseverance. My family’s circumstances were further complicated by a sometimes absent father who was fighting his own battles, leaving my mother to care & provide for me & my then five siblings.
How did the effects on your mental health appear in terms of symptoms?
I struggled in school. My brain injuries made it difficult for me to read & write at the level I had before the accident. The brain trauma caused learning delays & disabilities. I also had to learn to walk all over again & when I did it was w a limp. I was enrolled in special education classes at school & remained unable to run & play with my friends. I was embarrassed by my placement in class & my inability to learn & comprehend as others did. I was equally embarrassed by my limp & the scars that covered my body. I hid my body under heavy clothes even in the summer & hid my class assignment from friends.
When and why did you decide to ask for help to get relief?
I eventually fell in love w the sport of football, even if I was only able to watch it at the time. My passion for the game ignited a need to regain physical ability. My desire to play football became the fuel to keep me moving forward, learning to walk again & eventually run. Being able to play w my friends filled a void of loneliness & isolation. My learning disabilities & the shame I felt around my disabilities were a separate struggle. I couldn’t communicate with my peers when it came to school work so I hid from those conversations. I felt that if I could overcome my learning disabilities I would gain self-esteem & feel like I was as good & as smart as my peers. I didn’t have the tools to overcome my learning obstacles on my own & needed to reach out to my mother & a supportive teacher for help.
What methods helped you individually get/feel better?
I focused on my dream of playing football to fuel my efforts physically. I learned to set small goals & build on small victories as I worked toward that dream. Wanting to play football in college & the NFL also meant that I needed to do well in school. My mother supported my desire by advocating my placement in standard education classes & encouraging me to try things that seemed hard & to challenge myself. Supportive teachers showed me learning & organizational strategies to navigate my classes & rebuild my foundational learning skills. By setting incremental goals & seeking assistance from knowledgeable & supportive people I was able to achieve more than anyone ever expected. I gained confidence w each achievement & went from feeling like an outsider to being a leader.
Why did you decide to go public with your story? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
My father’s health was failing for many months, eventually leading to his death. During that difficult period, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my life’s journey & thinking that my story might be able to inspire or encourage other people struggling w similar circumstances. Not knowing exactly how to go about sharing my story, I just started writing. It was an outpouring of emotion & resulted in my first published book, The Running Back, True Story – From the Wheelchair to the NFL. I knew my story had the potential to help kids that are struggling w both physical & learning disabilities.
How did people react when you went public with your story?
The positive feedback & support has been overwhelming. I expected young kids& especially athletes to be impacted by my story. Beyond athletes I’ve received feedback from parents, coaches & teachers explaining how my story has impacted & inspired them. People feel hopeful & are able to see the power of having a dream & breaking it down into small achievable goals. Having people support you is a crucial element to recovery & success. We’re not alone.