Superhero series: EUGENE TEJADA

From time to time, I’ll be featuring some people who I think are pretty awesome. I’m calling it the SUPERHERO SERIES!

I made a new friend recently. His name is Eugene Tejada, and he’s a walking miracle.

Anjie, me, Gene, Miro, LJ, & Alex during that Sunday lunch

Anjie, me, Gene, Miro, LJ, & Alex during that Sunday lunch

I first met Gene last January through my friends, LJ and Alex, when he joined us for lunch at Serendra after one of the Sunday morning church services. He came in the restaurant, walking with difficulty, relying on some kind of crutches. I had no idea who he was. Since I’m not very good at small talk, I just tried to pick up what I could from his conversations with Alex and LJ. He was a basketball player, he got injured, he’s from the US, he was just visiting, and he was leaving that same week. Got it.

Unfortunately, I’m not a PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) follower, so I was really clueless and I had no idea who Eugene was (I eventually told him this, by the way. Haha!).

When I got home, I couldn’t get the image of Gene struggling to walk out of my head, and I wanted to know how he ended up disabled like that. I googled him, and I found this article. Eugene was a player for Purefoods in the PBA, and during a game against Red Bull, one of his opponents fell and landed on him while he was still down on the floor after a rebound, and the next thing he knew, he couldn’t feel anything. He suffered with a spinal cord injury that day, and was left paralyzed. It was tragic. I couldn’t help but feel really sad while I was reading that article.

The tragedy happened in 2006.

Last week, I got a call from one of my friends, Rob Johnson. Rob is a pastor from Victory Fort, a former PBA player, and one of Eugene’s good friends. He invited me to join him and Gene at Greenhills to just catch up and talk. Turns out, Gene was back in town because he attended a wedding. Rob wanted me to meet up with them to hear Gene’s story from his point of view, and maybe share some advice or words of encouragement, too. So the next day, I went to CPK at Promenade, and when I arrived, the three buddies (Rob, Gene, and Alex) were busy catching up. They were in good spirits.

With Rob’s encouragement, Gene told me his story from the time he came to the Philippines to play ball (in 2003) to his life today. WHAT A STORY. The short version is that he was riding high, having the time of his life, enjoying fame and fortune, and then he suffered the accident and lost what seemed to be everything. He couldn’t move, he could barely feel anything, he lost his career, he lost his girlfriend, he lost his social life, he was emotionally numb, and he was depressed, among other things. But today, he’s a walking miracle.

I don’t know if people ever expected him to walk again, but now he’s walking! I am really inspired by this guy’s resilience and perseverance, not to mention the love he has for his family. His story is truly an inspiring story and the best part is…IT’S NOT YET FINISHED!

As much as I’d love to tell you his story, it’s really his to tell. You have to see him and you have to hear him tell it, because seeing and hearing him tell it is what makes the story special. When you see a man like him speak and laugh the way he does, despite all that he’s been through, you can’t help but feel inspired.

As I wrap this up, I want to share something that Gene said that really struck me. He was telling me that someone asked him an interesting question (if I remember correctly, he said it was Alex). The question was: “If you could take a pill that would make everything go back to the way it used to be…you’d get everything back, except it would mean that you wouldn’t know the things you know now, and you’d lose everything you’ve learned. Would you take it?”

Gene’s answer: “No. I definitely wouldn’t.”

When he told us this, I smiled at him and said, “Yup, you definitely have a story to tell.”

Gene is flying back again to the US this week, but I hope we get to see him again soon. I can’t wait to see what’s next in his story, because I’m sure it’s just going to get better and better.

Thanks for sharing your story, Gene. You’re already a shining light for a lot of people. :)

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