They all told him it would never happen. The doctors, the physiotherapists. All of them advised Paul McCrary to accept that he’d never walk again.
He simply took their words as inspiration.
Standing in front of a group of Windsor Selects baseball players as he directed them through their paces during a workout, personal trainer McCrary paused to recollect the personal journey that brought him to this point – the operator of his own gym, Windsor’s Limitless Training Centre. And limitless is a word that aptly describes the fire that burns inside McCrary’s belly.
Injured eight years ago at the age of 17 during a football game while playing for Catholic Central high school, McCrary suffered a broken neck on the opening kickoff of a game against Sandwich. He was diagnosed a C5 quadriplegic and told he’d be wheelchair-bound for his remaining days on earth.
“I was given little hope of doing anything past moving and getting around in an electric wheelchair for the rest of my life,” McCrary recalled. “I couldn’t really move my arms much or anything below my shoulders.The prognosis was that it would stay similar to that level of function.”
He heard their diagnosis, and then got a second opinion from within his own mind.
“I did a lot of physical therapy over the next 4-5 years, 3-5 hours a day, most days of the week, pretty consistently through that whole time,” McCrary said. “I was constantly changing facilities and therapists every six months to a year, trying new things, pushing myself in different ways. Just challenging the beliefs of my therapists, my doctors and myself, to just try to get better all the time.”
Within the first year, he was able to stand. By the second year, he was walking, first with the aid of parallel bars, and soon thereafter via crutches. Within five years of the accident, he was on the crutches full time, leaving his wheels and his chair behind.
The human spirit can attain spectacular achievements. McCrary believes there was a will within him prior to his injury, but that the objective of overcoming the injury ramped it up so much further that it even surprised him at times.
“The accident definitely brought out another level of it,” McCrary said. I was always very dedicated toward the sports I was working on or the activities I was involved with, along with training in general, and that was a great base, a foundation for my recovery. But the pressing need to recover, to live the life I wanted to live, was extra motivation. It pushed me a lot harder than I would have been pushed.”
That life goal was always to do exactly what he’s doing today – to be a personal trainer, to operate his own gym, and McCrary dangled that carrot in front of his own eyes to keep the drive within burning brightly.
He credits family for playing a large role in that motivation as well.
“There was kind of like a moment after about two and half years after my injury,” McCrary remembered. “I was sitting in the basement with my cousin around 2 a.m. and we were having a conversation.
“I was at that time enrolled in mathematics, computer science for university. I was talking to him about how I don’t like sitting around all day, being stuck at a computer, how I don’t want to live my life that way. I wanted to be on my feet doing things. We just decided at that moment that I was going to get on my feet and do things.
“By the end of that summer, I’d made so much progress that I decided that I wanted to do the career that I wanted to do in the first place, which was training or physiotherapy, so I went and changed my major to human kinetics and made it a goal to do that.”
He opened his gym late in 2016 and it has quickly become a place to go for some of the area’s elite athletes.
“What I am really happy about is the amount of athletic training that we have going on here,” McCrary said. “There’s a lot of baseball players coming in from the Windsor Selects and a lot of the Windsor Lancers football players as well.”
Recently, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle and fellow Catholic Central alum Tyrone Crawford dropped in for a workout with McCrary.
“Everything has gone to plan or better than to plan so far,” said McCrary, who keeps a constant reminder of his journey aloft in the ceiling of the gym – his wheelchair.
“It really just makes me appreciate every second,” McCrary said. “If I’m having a tough time, if the gym’s dead or things aren’t going the way I want them to, it’s there.
“It reminds me of where I was, of where I could be in my life.”
It keeps him going because, as the message on the wall at Limitless Training Centre reminds us all, ‘The Grind Never Stops.’