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Saturday, April 27, 2013
Jared Coppola continues to fight on

By Chris Bradley

St. John’s Prep will hold an open house at 11 a.m. on Sunday in honor of Jared Coppola, a former Eagles’ football player who was originally paralyzed from the shoulders down after he fractured the C-5 vertebrate in his back. Guests will be asked for a $100 donation, the cost of one hour of his summer therapy.

The story of the Coppola triplets took to the national stage, when the Eagles made their run to the MIAA Division 1 Super Bowl in 2010. Jared was paralyzed from the waist down in a September 2009 scrimmage, just a year after Brandon fractured his own C-5 vertebrae, though he made a full recovery. The third triplet, Tyler, was the catalyst for Prep's journey to the title game, leading the state in rushing and earning a spot on ESPNBoston.com's annual All-State Team.

In 2011, the Coppolas' story was featured on "E:60", narrated by Michael Smith and discussing Jared's long recovery:



Jared, now a student at the University of New Hampshire who has full use of his arms, can now also walk short distances and drive a car—he drives himself from UNH to Boston Medical Center and Journey Forward in Canton every weekend for therapy. He has set high standards for himself in his recovery, and would like to attend the Beyond Therapy program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta from May until July.

The Shepherd Center is considered one of the world’s leaders in spinal cord injury research and therapy. Therapy costs $100 per hour and is not covered by insurance. Jared, who has his eyes fixated on being able to once again walk without help, says therapy at the Shepherd Center is the only way for him to have the opportunity to reach his goals. The therapy includes access to a weight-training facility, a pool for him to work out in, and state of the art treadmills.

“The reason I’m going down there is that it’s very structured," he said. "For me, I work very well with structure, I do better when there’s someone there to push me and make sure I don’t take breaks and that I work hard. They also have a lot of equipment and knowledge because they’re a spinal cord rehab facility."

He says he has made gradual significant progress on the treadmill -- which, thanks to a harness, supports whatever percent of his body weight is entered into the connected computer. There was a point in time where he needed the harness to support almost half his body weight while on the treadmill -- including having help from two people assisting him. Now, the harness supports around 20 percent of Jared’s body weight -- which means that outside of therapy he can walk by himself with a walker for short periods of time.

To get to classes and the vast majority of places that require a lot of walking, though, he still needs a wheelchair, which is something he would like to put to rest.

“I just want to get rid of the wheelchair, at all times," he said. "To walk with a walker unassisted, I just want to get out of the wheelchair and not need it anymore. I’m also at a point in my progress that this will be good for me because when I go down the first couple days I set my own goals for the program."

Jared recently had tendon-lengthening surgery to help strengthen his left leg. The procedure paid off, as seen in this video of him taking steps a couple of weeks ago at his home in North Reading:



There was once a point in time where doctors were unsure of whether or not Jared would walk again. They told him that a lot of people don’t recover from his level of injury, but behind positive support from his parents and four siblings, he continues to make significant progress. He says he never once remembers seeing his family show a lot of emotion about the injury in front of him, which has helped him keep a positive mindset over the course of a rigorous, often brutally challenging recovery.

“The doctors said ‘your level of injury is really bad, a lot of people don’t recover from these injuries,’ but the whole time I was just telling myself: I’m gonna’ be fine, I’ll get better,” he says.

Jared will be speaking at the open house about his recovery, where he’s come from, and how far he still wants to go. He has spoken at several sports injury conferences, but this is his first time speaking in front of St. John’s Prep alumni, students, friends and family.

“It will be weird and I’ll probably be a little nervous about it, but it’s just about me and how I’ve been doing and everything," he said. "What’s also different too is that my recovery takes awhile. They’ll see that I’ve made so much progress; I see the little small things that went behind it."

Open house will be held at Milano Dining Room in Memorial Dining Hall at St. John’s Prep. If you're unable to attend, please help Jared with his mission by making a contribution and sending it to: The Jared Coppola Fund, c/o Reading Cooperative Bank, 170 Park Street, North Reading, MA 01964