Not everyone has a moment in their life that they can point to as an actual turning point. But Adam Taliaferro does. On September 23, 2000, the Penn State rookie cornerback saw action in his fifth college football game at Ohio State. He went to make a tackle like he had done countless times since he started playing the sport at seven years old. Only this time, when the play was dead, he lay lifeless on the field.
Taliaferro suffered a spinal cord injury in that instance. It left him paralyzed from the neck down. With that hit, a young aspiring NFL football player had his life drastically altered. What he could not have known at the time was how rewarding the next twenty years would be.
“My story would be so different,” Taliaferro said. “I probably wouldn’t be walking right now. Everything I have today wouldn’t be if not for people. That moved me. The injury was tough, but the life lessons I learned going through it were priceless. We have to be willing to give back to people. I am not saying everyone needs help, but there are times a person needs a hand, a little help; I needed that myself. And that inspired me to give back in my little way.”
Taliaferro gives back through his job as a lawyer, leading the patient advocacy department for Bristol-Meyers Squibb. He serves in New Jersey’s legislature. And the Adam Taliaferro Foundation has raised over a million and a half dollars to support those in financial need after suffering a spinal cord injury. Taliaferro’s plate is full, and he hopes it remains that way for the foreseeable future.
“I feel so blessed,” he said. “If you had asked me twenty years ago if this is where I would be, at the time, I would have shaken my head and said no way. I am 38 now, and in twenty years, I don’t know what I will be doing, but I love the job I do at Bristol-Meyers and hope I am still doing that.
“As far as public service, as long as people will have me, and as long as I feel I am being impactful, effective, and helping people out, then yes, I will continue. But the most important thing, I have a five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter; I want to be the best parent I can be to my kids.”
Taliaferro’s caring way is rooted in his upbringing and the people—some perfect strangers—who helped him through his seven-month rehabilitation. He went from being paralyzed to a person who can walk again, a feat still so vivid in his mind, despite the passing of nineteen plus years.
“Both my parents were there,” Taliaferro remembered of that late December day back in 2000. “A few of my dad’s friends were there also. Everyone had their camera out. It was like a baby taking his first steps. I had a therapist behind me, one in front, and two on either side, and they just let me go.
“I remember trying to lift my leg, and it felt like it weighed 100 pounds. I was straining to lift that leg, but I did, and then I dragged my right leg forward. I was able to take that first step on my own. For me, it was a feeling that is hard to put into words because everything that had transpired over that last year rushed to my mind. I thought about all the people who helped me get to that point just for me to take that first step. It was one of the best feelings ever.”
Taliaferro doesn’t deny that he thinks about the injury or what could have been if it had not have occurred. His thoughts, however, are not with remorse or anger. He cherished the game then and still does today.
“It’s a game I have loved since the age of five,” he shared. “Any chance I get to watch it, I’ll watch it. It’s a getaway for me to watch football. When I got to Penn State, I said to myself I am playing in the NFL. Coaches said I was going to get an opportunity to play as a freshman. From there, I had a strict mindset; I am going to play in the NFL in three to four years.
“The guy I played behind got drafted by Green Bay in the third round, and the third-string cornerback behind me got drafted by the Titans,” he continued. “ I think about what may have happened. I would have had a good shot.”
Adam Taliaferro never had the opportunity to tackle NFL receivers. Still, he has helped countless patients tackle problems that have arisen from injuries they suffered or diseases they are fighting.
Yes, one moment changed Taliaferro’s life forever, but it did not take away from the many riches he has reaped over the last two decades. It added to them.