A 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy is inspiring others this football season with his return to the field more than two years after losing both of his lower legs to meningitis, PennLive.com reported.
Deven Jackson’s jersey was retired in 2012 after a rapidly progressing case of meningitis required the amputation of both of his legs below the knee.
After numerous surgeries, Deven learned how to walk on his first set of prostheses the following summer. But he wondered if he’d ever get the chance to play his favorite sport again.
"I thought I couldn't really play football because I wasn't really ready or in condition," the athlete from Centre Township, Pa. told PennLive.com.
Deven’s mother, Michelle, told him that he would need to learn how to run again before he could think about stepping onto the football field. His opportunity came when a friend at Florida’s “Camp No Limits” for kids with disabilities let Deven try on his running blades.
In April, Deven underwent another surgery to shorten his leg bones which were still growing. And by June, he was the proud owner of a pair of donated running blades – which usually cost between $5,000 and $10,000 each, according to Michelle.
Deven worked with a trainer three times a week throughout the summer to prepare for the upcoming youth football season – and his comeback has been challenging.
“He had me running, catching the ball, sprinting for passes, ladder drills," said Deven. "Sometimes I get tired when I'm just standing … This season I'm going to train real hard and work hard."
For Deven, suiting up for a game is no easy task. As the first double amputee in the nation to play contact football, it takes almost two hours to apply the correct padding on his carbon fiber running blades to ensure the safety of everyone on the field, according to his coaches.
Deven’s father, Dave, fashioned football padding for the blades out of the gel-cushioned sleeves from his son’s old prostheses. He also cut up an old sole from a pair of cleats and fastened it to the bottom of the blades to give him grip on the grass.
"I'd venture this is something his teammates will remember for the rest of their lives," said Steve Alic, spokesman for USA Football, the national governing body for youth and high school football. "It certainly will foster a message of inspiration and real can–do spirit – that there's no reason to hold yourself back, especially if you see here's your teammate playing with two prosthetic legs."