Updated: Aug 1, 2020
Kareem McNeal was destined for greatness. His natural athletic ability made him stand out from the rest. Kareem was first introduced to football his freshman year in high school. His mother transferred him to a private school in Tuskegee, Alabama, and on registration day the coach of the football team recruited him. Although his first day of practice was so hard that he contemplated quitting, he stuck with it and quickly learned that football was something that he loved to do. By his junior year, his coach told him that he would have the opportunity to go to any college he wanted to because of his football ability. His coach was right. He was player of the year for his division and was one of the top 12 recruits in the state of Alabama his senior year. He got letters from people recruiting him all over the country. However, he made a decision to stay close to home because he came from a single family household and he wanted to stay close to his mother and younger siblings. Kareem’s sacrifice for his family paid off. He attended the University of Alabama and played for their championship team. His freshman year, the Alabama Crimson Tide won the Sugar Bowl. With hard work and determination, Kareem was awarded a starting position as a right tackle in his sophomore year. By his junior year, he was on the NFL’s radar. Everyone expected him to enter the draft. That same year, Kareem also married the woman that he loved and knew since 8th grade. Life was good! Then one night, things took a sudden turn for the worst.
In July 1995, a few months before he started his senior year of college, Kareem went home for the weekend to visit his family and friends. Kareem connected with his close friend and his brother-in-law one night during his visit home. The three drove around looking for a place to play pool but were unsuccessful and decided to call it a night. As they were driving along the dark, relatively empty two-lane road, they found themselves behind a slow-moving car. Kareem’s brother-in-law, who was driving, began to pass the car in his vehicle by moving to the outer lane. The driver in the next car sped up. Without notice, another car appeared from the opposite direction. To avoid the head-on collision, Kareem’s brother-in-law swerved sharply. He lost control of his vehicle and it became airborne. Kareem, along with the other passengers in his car, was ejected. Flying through the windshield glass was just the beginning of the carnage from the accident that night. Kareem’s friend was thrown from the backseat onto his head in the middle of the street. Kareem and his brother-in-law were both thrown over a barbed-wire fence into a bed of rattlesnakes. Holding on to dear life while slipping in and out of consciousness, Kareem managed to continue to yell for help until the police could find them. The officers had to kill the rattlesnakes before the men could be rescued.
All of a sudden, Kareem’s life was turned upside down. The paramedics rushed them to the hospital and discovered that Kareem had the worst injuries out of the three in the accident. He had a partially collapsed lung, he broke his back and was paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told his wife that Kareem only survived because he was in great shape. He spent a week in ICU, and the doctors amputated his legs. He was devastated. Questions started to roll through Kareem’s head, “What am I going to do with my life now? How am I going to take care of my wife? Is she going to stay with me in this situation? Am I ever going to be able to have kids?” The emotions nearly became overwhelming. It was only his faith that sustained him during that time. Despite Kareem’s spiritual maturity, that season in his life remained one of the most challenging tests that he had ever faced. He questioned why God would allow something like this to happen to him?
Upon leaving the hospital, Kareem and his wife started this new journey together. Their faith kept them together, and they stood in agreement that God would heal Kareem and one day he would walk again. While waiting on his blessing, Kareem continued his education and went to grad school. His head coach encouraged him to become a graduate assistant at a school called RISE, an institution that works with students with disabilities. He had the opportunity to see children who were born with disabilities. Despite not having the advantages of other children, the children at RISE were happy and could get around independently. The strength they showed through their adversities blessed Kareem with a new perspective. He finally saw that there can be life after tragedy and his life could be used to bless others. He worked there for two years and afterward decided to try teaching. He taught in his field of health education and loved it. Once he realized he enjoyed teaching, he applied for a job at Shelton State Community College. He asked to teach health education at the school, but the administrator offered him a position as a weight training coach. He was intrigued by the challenge, so he accepted.
He knew football and what it took to get in shape, so he used that for his advantage. Kareem loved his experience working as a coach and has served in that role for the last 20 years. While there, he saw so many students who are in wheelchairs come to his class to learn how to lift weights, and the school eventually established a scholarship in his name to help students with disabilities. Today, twenty-three years after the accident that drastically changed his life, Kareem is going strong. He is still happily married to his wife, has two children, coaches for two football teams, and is the proud owner of a cheesecake business with the reputation of being the best in the state of Alabama.
Through advances in technology, Kareem is able to drive and live a very fulfilling life. Through it all, he knows that God has him on this earth for a reason, and he needs to live his life to the fullest. Today Kareem's heart is filled with joy because he sees how God has been faithful to him along his journey. “God is still God, regardless of what is going on, and although I did not get the deliverance that I wanted, God’s hand has still been all over my life,” said Kareem. There is no doubt that his story has inspired countless people over the years. Despite his adversities, God still uses him as a vessel for greatness! He is a testimony of the mighty things God can do with ANY life.