Though Paralyzed, Rodney Rogers Stays Strong

“We went riding dirt bikes. And going through the trail, I kind of hit a ditch and it flipped me over the handlebars. I thought I had my hands down. But I didn’t. Fell on my head. Broke my neck.”

Rodney Rogers

Sometimes you’ve got to let stories speak for themselves. That’s the least we can do for Rodney Rogers, who gave his first interview after being paralyzed from the shoulders down in a dirt bike accident in November. Unlike athletes who suffer serious injuries while playing, Rogers never got the media attention afforded to people like Darryl Stingley or Dennis Byrd. But that’s OK with him. There was always much more to Rogers than his NBA career.

A local boy to the core, he was born in Durham and went to high school there, before starring at Wake Forest and going on to a distinguished 12-year career, including a Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2000. So it was no surprise when he moved back home after retiring in 2005. Though he was “financially set,” he took a job as a heavy equipment operator for the city’s public works department, because he wanted demanding daily work. Six months before the accident, he was promoted to supervisor. That health insurance came in handy, as the NBA’s CBA doesn’t provide for catastrophic insurance for retired players.

Basketball was still in his blood. He was a volunteer girls’ basketball coach at a local middle school, and had set up a computer lab in a nearby housing project, where kids could write to — and get responses from — a local hero. Then came the accident, the day after Thanksgiving.

[Fianceé Faye] Suggs didn’t want him to go. “I just thought we should stay home,” Suggs recalls.

But it was a beautiful fall day. Rogers wanted to see his friends. This time he said yes.

“I could have been spending time with Faye,” Rogers says. “She asked me not to go. But she wasn’t going to sit there and try to force me not to go.”

Rogers had some regrets on the drive to Vance County. He remembers thinking: “I shouldn’t go out today. I’m getting too old for this mess.”

He had on a helmet that day. He had had several accidents on dirt bikes. None had been serious, but they had convinced him to always wear a helmet when riding. He also wore protective gear on his arms and legs.

“But not a neck brace,” Rogers says matter-of-factly.

Rogers hit a ditch, flipped over the handlebars and landed on his head.

Even in the air, he says, he doesn’t remember being hugely concerned.

“I had fallen like that plenty of times while riding,” he says.

But as soon as Rogers came down, he knew something was wrong. His friends circled back to check on him.

“I never lost consciousness,” Rogers says. “I told them when they came back and got me: ‘I think I done messed up and broke my neck.’ I didn’t feel nothing. I couldn’t move my arms, couldn’t move my legs. I knew it wasn’t right.”

The 6′7″, 235-pound power forward now relies on his fianceé. She feeds him, washes him, clothes him. She checked his ventilator constantly and moves him from bed to wheelchair and back.

“When you have somebody like Faye who’s been there since Day One to take care of you,” Rogers says, “that’s great. If it weren’t for her, no telling how I’d be feeling.”

Says Suggs: “He wouldn’t have ever left me in the same situation, so I won’t ever leave him.”

Rogers has hope that he’ll be able to walk again someday, but in the meantime he’s not worried about it.

“I don’t want people to treat me any different,” he says. “I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me. I’m in a wheelchair. But I’m Rodney. I’m still Rodney.”