JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A public memorial service will be held Saturday morning at the University of North Florida to celebrate the life of a Jacksonville man paralyzed as a teen, but who lived nearly another decade inspiring others.
J.T. Townsend's died early Wednesday morning at age 26. He suffered a spinal-cord injury during a football game in 2004 and was left paralyzed. His death was a shock to many, but he left a lasting impression on those in his life and the Jacksonville community.
Townsend graduated from UNF with a degree in sports management in April. Now, the community will gather there to say goodbye.
Many of his peers and teachers at UNF were inspired by his determination and loved how he always brightened their day.
"His smile, there was no way you could be around J.T. without being happy." said Dr. Jennifer Kane, one of Townsend's professors.
Along with faculty and classmates, many well-known people in the Jacksonville area used only wonderful words to describe Townsend.
"He was my kind of guy. Just visiting with him. Just talking to our team today and I know he inspired many," Jaguar head coach Gus Bradley said.
Bradley isn't the only "big-name" in sports to share their fond feelings of J.T. Professional golfer Fred Funk was touched by J.T.'s story and the two became very close over the years.
"He's just going to be really missed. His love of life and his love of other people and you just cant replace it. I've never met anyone like J.T., and I never will meet anyone like J.T.," Funk said.
Townsend's story is a clear inspiration to many, but the fact that he continues to make a difference in so many lives is why his story is still so compelling.
He played a huge part in the designing of UNF's disability resource center. The center's director Kristine Webb says she will never forget the first time J.T. saw the new center. She turned around and he was doing circles in his wheel chair in the newer and much bigger hallways.
"He took that opportunity to demonstrate just exactly how wide those hallways were and and how adapt he was with his wheel chair and using those wide hallways and we always laughed about that," said Kristine Webb.
His life is is a true testament of how one can lead a fulfilling life, despite a disability.
Visitation will be at 9 a.m. Saturday at the UNF Arena, followed by the memorial service at 11 a.m. Both are open to the public.
The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the JT Townsend Foundation, 8152 Seven Mile Drive, Ponte Vedra, FL 32082. For more information, visit jttownsendfoundation.org.