Eric LeGrand
Ex-Rutgers player Eric LeGrand's bourbon brand is now in NY, donating to spinal cord injury research with each case sold. Screenshot / YouTube Brindiamo Group

Rutgers University's former defensive tackle, Eric LeGrand's life changed more than a decade ago when he sustained a paralysing injury when he played against Army running back Malcolm Brown at MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Jets and Giants.

Today his life changed again as he expands his one-year old bourbon brand, Eric LeGrand Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a passion product he started even if paralysed, from New Jersey and Kentucky into New York - promising to give a portion of the sale from each bottle towards finding a cure for paralysis.

Turning Tragedy into Triumph

LeGrand's life took an unexpected turn during a fourth-quarter tackle attempt of his game against Army. In a recent FOX Business video call, he described positioning his head down and expecting shoulder-to-shoulder contact with Brown.

LeGrand's head slammed into Brown's shoulder blade, the force fracturing his C3 and C4 vertebrae, leaving him paralysed. As he lay motionless on the ground, uncertainty and worry about his future gripped him.

Following his injury, LeGrand said he was motivated by many things. "What I got to see, unfortunately, some families that were not there to support one another, or husbands and wives getting a divorce because of an injury, or people that just didn't have anybody, it kind of inspired me."

In contrast, the former player was fortunate enough to have an outpouring of support. He drew strength from his mother, family, friends, and even strangers. Their encouragement propelled him on his recovery, and soon LeGrand regained feeling in various parts of his body.

LeGrand also found solace in his former coach, Greg Schiano, and their relationship has grown into a lasting friendship. "I've known him for 20 years, and he went from being a father figure, a coach, a mentor to a friend. I wouldn't be who I am without him."

Even in the face of a life-altering injury, LeGrand maintained a grateful outlook, and in time, he turned his focus from sports to entrepreneurship. He launched and co-founded his bourbon brand, with business partner Brian Axelrod. On top of this, he also opened coffee shop in New Jersey, where he would regularly hold events that championed spinal cord injury awareness and fundraising for the past decade.

In time, he also partnered with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which was launched in 2013 through their "Team LeGrand" initiative. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is a leading American non-profit organisation dedicated to finding cures and treatments for paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders.

The partnership also aimed to spread awareness about paralysis and solicit financial support for individuals facing this challenge. LeGrand's fundraising efforts have yielded millions of dollars in donations from dedicated supporters.

"I wake up every single day with a purpose," he said. "I know that there's just so much to live for, obviously, with my life and my businesses. I'm very busy, so I really don't have much time to sulk and get down on myself."

LeGrand Donates to Spinal Cord Research

Honouring his Rutgers number 52, LeGrand's bourbon brand donates $5.20 per case sold to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. "We're going to do that for as long as we have ownership of the brand," he added.

In a landmark deal for both the brand and Rutgers University, LeGrand and Axelrod secured a multi-year partnership with Rutgers University Athletics last year, making Eric LeGrand Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey the ischool's first spirits partner.

"Rutgers is near and dear to my heart," LeGrand said.

Expansions In The Horizon

His entrepreneurial spirit extends beyond New Jersey and Kentucky, with plans to bring his bourbon brand to consumers across the U.S., including Massachusetts, later this year. Among this, he always keeps sight of his ultimate goal: Walking again one day.

Driven by his spirit and love of bourbon, LeGrand founded his namesake brand in October 2010 (according to the official website). Their online store offers a variety of products, including the Eric LeGrand Bourbon T-Shirt, a hoodie celebrating the collaboration between Eric LeGrand Bourbon and Melin, and, of course, the Kentucky Straight Bourbon itself. This bourbon is crafted with select heartland-grown corn, limestone-purified water, and the freshest rye and barley available.

"My recovery journey has mirrored that of my bourbon. Both take precision, patience, and trust in the process." LeGrand said in a statement during their launch.

"Eric LeGrand Bourbon offers a way for those who are living with paralysis and those who are not impaired by it, to enjoy sipping on a quality bourbon, while coming together to support a foundation that gives back to anyone impacted by this condition."

LeGrand continues to share his story with a contagious smile and relentlessly pursues his mission to cure paralysis. This determination comes at an opportune time when remarkable progress of brain-computer interface technology is making waves, and could mean a great deal for people with paralysis.

Noland Arbaugh, a 30-year-old paralysed individual and the first user with a Neuralink chip implanted has achieved incredible feats like playing chess and "Mario Kart" using only his thoughts. Arbaugh called the outcome of his procedure "amazing" and "rewarding," exceeding his initial expectations.

The long-term effects and safety of Neuralink implants require extensive examination before they can be considered a viable treatment for paralysis.