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Dreams, triumphs and rugby: Colin Sullivan lives life to the fullest

For Colin Sullivan, a life-long resident of West Michigan, December 19, 1999, will always be remembered as the day in which his life changed forever.

Early that morning, around 5 am, Colin drove from East Lansing to his home in Grand Rapids, an 80-mile journey he had taken countless times in the past as a Michigan State University student.

Exhausted from the previous night’s activities, which included a holiday concert at his alma mater, Colin attempted to remain as alert as possible as he drove. He listened to the radio and gazed at the snow. Despite his best efforts to stay awake, Colin suddenly fell asleep behind the wheel, lost control of his car and drove into a guardrail.

After being unconscious for 6 days, Colin woke to discover he had been admitted to Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital due to the severe injuries he suffered from his car accident.

Colin’s C-7 vertebrae was bruised, an injury that paralyzed him from the chest down. To help him adjust to the life-altering injury as quickly as possible, Colin headed to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital a few days before New Year’s Eve.

“Since I was born in Grand Rapids, it was natural for me to do my rehab at Mary Free Bed,” Colin said. “A lot of my friends and family members were home for the holidays, too, so they were able to come out and support me at the hospital, which helped me recover faster.”

For the next 3 months, Colin received occupational, physical, and recreational therapy on a daily basis. While receiving physical therapy, he lifted weights and used the hospital’s pool regularly.

“I found the weightlifting equipment to be among the most valuable to my recovery since the accident had led to a considerable deprivation of my strength,” Colin stated. “As I gained strength throughout the coming weeks and months, I became more and more functional and independent.”

Colin’s ultimate goal was clear – to gain back his independence and to continue to live his life in much the same manner as he had before the accident. And, Mary Free Bed’s therapists helped him achieve his goals faster than he could have ever imagined.

“They equipped me with the knowledge and skills necessary to care for myself and live independently, which was a particular concern of mine since I was a 23-year-old single guy at the time,” Colin said.

He added, “The recreational therapists exposed me to the many opportunities that existed for people with disabilities. My transition to the ‘real world’ was much easier thanks to them.”

As Colin began to gain confidence in his abilities to live life to the fullest, despite his disability, he decided to commit himself to living out his dreams.

“After my accident, I went skydiving, traveled throughout the country, and purchased and designed a new condo in a high-rise in downtown Grand Rapids,” Colin stated. “I’ve been able to maintain the interests and pastimes I enjoyed prior to my accident.”

In the meantime, he has also discovered a new hobby – the sport of rugby.

“The rugby I play is actually a paralympic sport,” he said. “It’s a cross between conventional rugby, football, and basketball. It’s currently the only adaptive sport exclusive to quadriplegics.”

After only playing the sport for two years, Colin is already competing in tournaments headed by the United States Quad Rugby Association (USQRA). Most recently, he participated in a USQRA tournament held in Hudsonville.

Each tournament, which has a round-robin format, is open to public attendance, without charge. And, most importantly, since it’s designed specifically for quadriplegics, Colin believes all disabled individuals who are interested in the sport, and enjoy the thrill of competition, should at least consider playing it once. Perhaps, it will even lead them to participate in the sport on a competitive basis.

“The USQRA’s tournaments are fast-paced and intense by design and in practice,” he said. “If someone is a sports junkie, but they believe that they can no longer compete in sports due to their disability, then they likely haven’t heard of rugby. The USQRA’s rugby events are fun, highly competitive, and provide great opportunities to meet new people.”

As Colin prepares for the future, he is focused on further developing his rugby skills, as he continues to reach for the stars and accomplish all he possibly can.

“My experiences at Mary Free Bed played a significant role in my commitment and ability to live my present-day lifestyle, and to enjoy my passion for sports, including rugby,” he said. “I am looking forward to exploring new opportunities and to achieving more goals in the future.”

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