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Mourners Praise Paralyzed Athlete Rocky Clark As Inspiration

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Rocky Clark was paralyzed playing football at Eisenhower High School. (CBS)

Rocky Clark was paralyzed playing football at Eisenhower High School. (CBS)

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ROBBINS, Ill. (AP) — Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday for the funeral of a former suburban Chicago high school football player who was paralyzed from the neck down during a game more than a decade ago.

Friends, family and supporters remembered Rasul “Rocky” Clark, 27, of Robbins, who died Jan. 5 at Ingalls Hospital in Harvey. Clark was paralyzed when he was tackled during a football game in 2000 while playing for Blue Island’s Eisenhower High School.

But mourners at his funeral said Clark went on to become an inspiration.

“Didn’t Rocky teach us?” said Don Grossnickel, one of more than a dozen speakers. “Didn’t he show us the way?”

Clark’s mother, Annette Clark, thanked mourners for their support.

“My son never once felt sorry for himself,” she said. “I’m just proud of my son. The Lord had something for him to do.”

Clark was injured on the fourth play of a September 2000 game against Oak Forest High School when he was grabbed by the shoulders and tackled, his head hitting the ground. Doctors determined his neck was broken in two places.

But Clark went on to finish high school, donning cap and gown and having a friend wheel him across the stage so he could accept his diploma. He took some college courses, but a full-time schedule proved too difficult.

Clark’s care was provided through a $5 million insurance policy held by Community High School District 218, which stopped paying for his care last year. Since then he relied on Medicaid and his mother, who performed the work formally performed by three nurses.

After the insurance expired, Clark’s mother and other supporters publicized his plight and held fundraisers for his family members, who were being overwhelmed by Clark’s medical bills.

The Chicago Bears, generous supporters over the years, and others donated money to make the Clark house wheelchair-accessible. In December, officials of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame donated $25,000 to Clark’s care.

His doctor, Dr. Charles Beck, said in 2011 that Clark’s chances of surviving a decade or more were only about 10 percent. He credited Clark’s mother and top-flight nurses with doing “an absolutely remarkable job” of protecting him from potentially fatal infections and illnesses.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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