JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A highlight played on the big screen in the church auditorium showing some of the best moments from his basketball career.
High school state champion.
SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Patric Young, all 6-foot-10 of him, emerges from the dim background and rolls slowly across the stage in his wheelchair at New Life Christian Fellowship. The crowd, this time, students at his alma mater, Providence, rise to their feet and cheer.
Young used to make students in the basketball gym at Providence stay on their feet during games. He helped deliver the Stallions and coach Jim Martin the program’s first state basketball championship in 2010 before he went on to a stellar four-year career at the University of Florida where he made it to three consecutive Elite Eight appearances and had a trip to the Final Four. Young played professionally overseas for six seasons before joining the SEC Network as a basketball analyst.
But now, it’s the sight of Young and the authenticity of his words that make the Providence faithful cheer.
The former Providence and University of Florida basketball turned TV analyst was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident last June near Nebraska. He’s been in rehab since the accident trying to overcome the odds stacked against him.
When Young was first told by doctors after the accident that his spinal injuries could lead him to be confined to a wheelchair for life, it was an emotional gut punch unlike anything he’d experienced. Young was in the one-car accident just days before he was going to marry his fiancee, Whitney Abbott. Life had different plans, Young said, and he had to make peace with it.
“Obviously, hearing the news is difficult, that you’re paralyzed and your chances [to walk again] are slim, but there is a chance,” he said.
“I took it as it was and just realized, ‘hey, every part that makes Patric Young, Patric Young, that makes me, me, is still here, mentally, emotionally.’ Even though physically I might be a little bit, I’m disabled, nothing stops me from being a good husband, father, person, all those things that have placed me where I am now, that have nothing to do with my physical ability.”
When Young was told following the accident of his new reality, the athlete in him emerged. On Thursday, he told the students that his goal is to be able to walk again. And Young drove home the point on just how important faith is in his journey. It’s the reason he’s able to smile and laugh and give hope to others in spite of his current condition.
After Young spoke on Thursday, Providence assistant coach Matt Santoni introduced one of the last remaining students in the sanctuary to Young. The student has undergone multiple medical procedures on one of his legs. Santoni said that the school was proud of the way the student had handled his physical battles with poise and grace. Young was equally encouraging.
“We can’t control our circumstances but the way that we approach them and look at them, we can control that,” Young said.
They ended the poignant moment with a fist bump.
“He’s the same guy. Mentally, physically, spiritually, he’s so strong,” said Stallions coach Jim Martin. “So, we’re glad to have him back. He’s the same guy we’ve loved from Day 1.”
Life since the accident has forced Young to analyze and reassess everything. And he’s done that with as much grace and humility as one could have when faced with having to rethink life. One of the main things Young had to accept was that he couldn’t do things by himself as he could in the past. For any able-bodied person, that’s a life-altering change. For an athlete, that’s even a greater challenge to accept.
“Physically, for me, it’s just understanding that it’s OK to ask for help. Now, I’ve been so used to being independent, this big, strong man that can do mostly everything on my own,” Young said. “But now I’m at a position where I need to ask for more help and that’s OK. It doesn’t make me less of a man, doesn’t make me less of a person. It actually allows other people the opportunity to serve and for me to receive service from other people in a loving way.”
When asked how he’s able to view his new circumstances in such a positive mindset, Young said that he definitely has his tough moments. His wife and his stepdaughter, Kyla, can attest to that, Young joked. Even if Young can’t walk now, his message doesn’t change.
“I’m just choosing joy. I’m just choosing that, hey, I have life. I get to go outside of my house. There’s a lot of things I still can’t do, but there’s a lot I can,” he said. “And when I’m around people when I’m around my therapist, I’m going to bring life and bring joy. And I want to just bring a message of that whatever your situation that you’re in, I know it can be dark and grim, but you can choose there’s things that you can still control your attitude, your effort, and your actions. So, I’m just living that.”