It happened in the first quarter of a bitterly fought football game. It was homecoming and the stadium was brimming with excitement. Thousands of Ole Miss fans were on their feet screaming as Vanderbilt threatened to score. Vandy’s quarterback threw a pass to wide receiver Brad Gaines. In a split second, Chucky Mullins, a free safety, read the play perfectly and tackled Gaines, his helmet crashing into Gaines’ back the instant the ball arrived. There was a snap, then a crack.
A moment later, Chucky lay sprawled on the field motionless, fully conscious, his neck broken and his spine shattered. He later said that it wasn’t the pain that scared him; it was the total absense of it.
On the sidelines, University of Mississippi coach Billy Brewer said a silent prayer. “Please, God, not Chucky. He’s had so much pain in his life. Let it be a dislocated shoulder, a pinched nerve —anything but a broken neck.” But looking at Chucky, he knew. In his heart he knew. “It was the first time in all my years of coaching that I didn’t go out onto the field,” the head coach said softly “I was frozen. I just couldn’t.”
Chucky was taken by helicopter to Baptist Memorial Hospital in nearby Memphis, where he underwent a three-hour operation in which doctors used wire and a bone graft from his pelvis to fuse four vertebrate in his neck. Carver Philips, his guardian and closest friend, was heartsick. He knew that Chucky’s life was one endless stream of poverty and pain. When he was orphaned at twelve, Chucky phoned Phillips, who was then his basketball coach, and innocently asked if he would take him in. Without batting an eye, Phillips agreed and never looked back. But it was never easy. Phillips’ wife Karen, worked in a sewing machine factory to help make ends meet. Chucky found a job washing cars at a gas station. One morning, the manager had sent him to clean the rest room and didn’t think about him again until lunchtime. Then he went around back, fully expecting to find Chucky asleep. Instead he found him standing tiptoe on a chair, polishing the overhead plumbing pipes. Floor, walls, bowls, mirrors—everything gleamed. “Son, a person could eat off this floor,” the stunned manager said. “Why didn’t you quit?”
“Quit!” Chucky replied. “Nobody ever told me to quit.” That was Chucky Mullins.
“ It is not what you have lost but what you have left that counts”
Karen and Carver Phillips drove to Memphis, heavy-hearted. Doctors told the couple that the force with which Chucky hit the Vanderbilt receiver caused at least four vertebrate to fracture “explosively.” There was a danger have lungs could fail; his condition was critical. Later, they rendered the prognosis everyone feared. Chucky was paralyzed. Forever. He’d received a fractured dislocation of the neck’s fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. Not only would he never walk again, he’d be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.
A month after the tragedy, Chucky had trouble breathing, and doctors performed an emergency tracheotomy. He remained desperately ill, but not disheartened. Teammates who visited found him unable to speak because of the opening in his throat. Chucky brushed off questions about his health. In typical fashion he gestured that he was doing fine. What interested him was how they were doing.
Ole Miss officials quickly established a Chuck Mullins Trust Fund and invited contributions from students, alumni, and other universities in the southeast conference to help meet the staggering medical costs, nearly $10,000 a month. They also decided to take up a collection at an upcoming Louisiana state game. If there were doubts about how Mississippians would respond to an appeal for a black student, they were not voiced. When a call went out for student volunteers to carry plastic buckets soliciting contributions, the needed 150 were signed up in an hour. Hundreds more had to be thanked and sent away. A record 42,354 people turned out for the game, cheering wildly when the Ole Miss Rebels ran onto the field with Chucky’s number, 38, on the side of every player’s helmet. The next day in the bursar’s office, the money collected was everywhere—checks in trays; ones, fives, tens, and twenties stacked up on chairs and spilling out of fried chicken buckets. The tally came to $178,168.
Chucky, who was permitted to sit up and listen to part of the LSU game on the radio, was stunned to hear the announcers describe the outpouring of affection for him. Soon his story was being told all over America. Donations arrived from every state in the nation. By mid-November, the total had climbed to $350,000. Later, as the university prepared to elect it’s “colonel Rebel”, seven standout students, six white, withdrew their candidacies. “It’s our hope”, they wrote in a joint letter to the Dean, “that all students will show their support by voting for Chucky”. Three months later, Chucky was moved to Spain rehabilitation center in Birmingham, Alabama. By July, a recurrent bladder infection and related problems required surgery. Still, if there were any dark moments, he kept them to himself.
Against all odds, Chucky returned to classes in January 1991. Some said that was his greatest achievement, but he had an even more breathtaking goal. ” I hope to get out of this chair”, he told a reporter. ” I know what the doctor’s say, but I’ll never quit trying.” On Wednesday, May 1, of the same year, as he was preparing for class, Chucky suddenly stopped breathing. A blood clot shut down his lungs. A nurse attending to him immediately tried artificial respiration, and he was rushed to the hospital. The courageous young man with a heart as big as this world, and who was so easy to love, never regained consciousness and died five days later. The rebel team was present when Chucky was laid to rest beside his mother in Russellville, Alabama. The entire southeast region was caught up in the moment. Everything ground to a halt. One by one, the Ole Miss players tried to say goodbye, but many could not. Teammate Chris Mitchell summed up everyone’s feelings. ” God brought Chucky into our lives, and he hasn’t taken him away. Some people, like Chucky , are bigger than death; they never die.” The special man goes to the grave with a shout!
The above story is a true tale exerpted from Dennis P. Kimbro’s ‘what makes the great great’. The tale talks about an individual whose living was just as courageous as his death.
No one was promised a life of immortality, or a life free of pain or disappointment. Rather, we’ve been given a choice to choose what to make out of the life we’ve been dealt with.
Life’s only worth living when we choose to make it worth living, and death becomes nothing but a mere transition.
The power we possess is utilized in living, living despite the disappointments, the hurt, the pain, the bad memories. Living a life worth remembering even in death. The question should be: what do you want to be remembered as? Do you want to be remembered as someone who was in constant fear that one day everything would end in death and then just breezed through life? Or, do you want to be remembered as someone who rose above everything else and lived more days than the day he would die? That choice is yours to make.
As the story of the old sage sitting beneath a tree in Egypt says:
The spirit of the plague went by. “Whither goest thou?” The wise man asked. ” I go to Cairo, where I shall slay one hundred Egyptians” was the reply. Three months later, the spirit of the plague again passed the old sage on its journey. ” You said you would slay one hundred in Cairo, but travelers tell me you slew ten thousand,” said the wise man in disbelief. To which the spirit of the plague replied, “I slew but one hundred. Fear slew the rest!”
Why then should you allow the fear of dying stop you from truly living?