Let me introduce you to the most courageous man I know. His name is Willie McQueen, and he is the toughest, most indomitable young man I have ever met.
Willie McQueen has met some of life’s most devastating challenges head on. Losing both of his legs was not necessarily the most demanding test of his character and inner-strength.
The date was August 7, 1994. McQueen, a 7-year-old kid from Flint, Mi., was visiting family down in Birmingham, Ala. Willie, especially, loved to run and he was fast, too. His dream was to one day play in the National Football League.
He spent the day with his buddies gallivanting around the neighborhood, playing at the park and doing what kids do.
“Little did I know when I got up and put my shoes and socks on that morning, it would be the last time that I would ever do so,” McQueen said.
Later in the day, the kids realized it was time to get home before it got dark.
“If you don’t get home before the street lights come on, that is your butt,” he explained.
The urgency to get home prompted a decision to take a shortcut through the railyard, where trains had been parked all day. And the quickest way home was not to go around the train, but to crawl underneath it.
There were six kids in all. The first five made it under with no problem. McQueen was the sixth and final person. Suddenly, as he began to make his way under, the train started to roll. Young McQueen was unable to make it out to the other side. He was trapped. The train dragged him about 50-feet, severing one leg, and badly mangling the other.
Watching all of this happen was the neighborhood bum, or local crackhead, wino, or whatever you want to call him. Earlier in the day, McQueen and his buddies were actually teasing him, and throwing rocks at him.
But, God, in His infinite greatness and wisdom, provides all of us with the capacity to accomplish great things.
Consider that it was the local bum, the man everyone looked down on, who got Willie from underneath the train, and held him in his arms until the ambulance arrived.
“And to think, I was throwing rocks at this guy earlier, and now he is helping me fight for my life,” said McQueen. “He kept telling me everything was going to be alright. I remember how he kept encouraging me. I saw the brightest lights I had ever seen in my life, and then I passed out.”
McQueen underwent more than 10 surgeries. He was in the hospital for 18 days. In the end surgeons were unable to save his legs.
However, McQueen was alive, and so were his dreams.
McQueen didn’t let his injury prevent him from fulfilling his dream of football. He went on to play flag football in elementary school, and tackle football in junior high.
But as a freshman at Flint Southwestern High School, there was some question as to whether he would be allowed to play football at the high school level.
“I had to wait while the coaches cleared everything with the school for safety reasons,” McQueen said. “But the whole time I am thinking that I am playing.”
Finally, McQueen got approval.
The next challenge was to demonstrate to the coaches that he wasn’t on the team as a nice gesture. He was there play. McQueen worked his way into the lineup as a defensive tackle, and was part of the rotation.
Willie’s story was such an inspiration that the San Francisco 49er’s flew him out to the Bay Area to speak to the team. It was there that he got to take pictures with Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice, the 49er’s star wide receiver duo.
But McQueen had to fight to overcome challenges far greater than losing his legs.
He faced jealousy from some of the people in his life that he was close to, because of the national attention he was getting. His story appeared in newspapers across the country, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, featured him as the football player with no legs.
The jealousy was painful and relentless and Willie who was deserving of support and admiration became isolated, succumbed to drugs, and quit school.
“After my senior year of football, I checked out,” McQueen said. “I was making some bad decisions and hanging out with the wrong kind of people…. But I couldn’t let myself go out like that. I looked at all the things I had overcome…to go out like this. Naw, I couldn’t allow that.”
The one thing that has never been in Willie McQueen is giving up. He got himself back on track, finished school with honors and became an honor roll student in college.
Now, 29, McQueen is sharing his story with people from all walks of life as a motivational speaker. He is the father of two children, ages 11 and 7. His goal is to be a strong father, role model and make a difference in the lives of others.
Those are goals he has already met, but that won’t stop Willie McQueen for wanting to do more.
Below find an ESPN video in which Willie plays and a video excerpt from one of McQueen’s recent speeches. The video will correct itself after a couple of moments.