Injured Athlete

The Blessing of Never Giving Up – by Shemeika Hudson

From the start, football was a big part of my family. My husband Matthew played in youth leagues, high school, and received a scholarship to play at Fayetteville State University. Matt shared his love for the sport with our daughter Jenia and our son JaJuan, who became Pittsburgh Steelers fans, just like their father. Matt would take JaJuan to his alma mater, Camden Catholic High School to watch games, and JaJuan would play football with anyone whenever he had the opportunity.

As a young child, JaJuan would often have headaches. When he was four, an MRI was ordered, and we were shocked to learn he had a brain condition unrelated to his headaches called Chiari Malformation, where the brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. Because of this condition, JaJuan was instructed not to participate in any contact sports or anything that could make his head jerk. This meant no skating, diving, amusement parks, or any other fun things kids do. We were even warned car accidents could be extremely dangerous.

Despite his diagnosis, JaJuan was determined to play football, even if it meant punting. So, he started practicing kicking pinecones, thinking there was no contact in that position. Even though he couldn’t play, he still studied the game he loved.

At each neurologist appointment, he would always ask the same question: “When can I play football?” One day I reprimanded him: “Do NOT ask the doctor about football anymore!” His response, at the age of five or six, right in front of the doctor was, “But you told me God can work miracles and heal people if they have faith and believe!” I was stunned at the faith of my son at such a young age. I never stopped him from asking again.

Eventually, the doctor recommended baseball and track and field as safer sports. JaJuan decided to play baseball and was great at it. He was a switch hitter, and played shortstop, left field, and third base. One day he came home with a flyer from school about a track club and said he wanted to join. Even though he loved baseball, he gave it up to run track. JaJuan excelled in the long jump and the relays and made it to the Jr. Olympics.

At the end of 6th grade, JaJuan had an appointment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) with a new neurologist. He returned home smiling from ear to ear, screaming “My doctor said I can play football!” I couldn’t believe it, but my husband confirmed the incredible news. Although the doctor advised he would not generally recommend football because of the contact, he cleared JaJuan after reviewing his updated MRI, as he considered his condition to be mild. HALLELUJAH!

We registered JaJuan with the Pennsauken Youth Athletic Association (PYAA) in 7th and 8th grade. His 8th-grade team won the championship, and he made the All-Star team.

JaJuan went on to play football all four years for Camden High School, suiting up for varsity as a freshman and competed in track and field. He experienced several injuries in high school, and he continue to play through most of them, surprising us all.

In his senior year, he injured his shoulder in practice. The X-rays showed a fracture, and he was given a 6–8-week recovery period. On the way home, he broke down in tears. My sister-in-law, Ruth, and I prayed with and on over him, and encouraged him that God has the final say. The next day we received miraculous news – the X-ray indicated a mild shoulder dislocation and no fracture, which allowed him to finish his high school career.

National Signing Day was on December 19th and JaJuan signed with Bowling Green University in Ohio on a full four-year football scholarship.

JaJuan was also recovering from a knee injury during his final high school football game, and we started to see a change in his mood. He was frequently angry and punched things, sharing he felt depressed, and sports was his only outlet. I found a psychologist at the Nemours Dupont Hospital in Delaware, where his doctors and physical therapist also practiced.

At his first appointment, he did not want to talk, until I explained that as his parents, we were not equipped to provide the help he needed, and a professional was better suited and equipped to help him understand his feelings and how to respond better.

Two days later he asked me to make him an appointment to go back and began seeing his doctor twice a week. JaJuan was dealing with a lot. He missed his indoor and outdoor track season due to his injured knee. He was very close to his grandmother, and her declining health and eventual passing that May deeply affected him. JaJuan soon shared he had issues concentrating and focusing in class and dealing with his emotions.

Follow-up testing resulted in diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD,) mood disorder, depression, and anxiety. He received the assistance needed and despite everything he went through, JaJuan graduated in the top twenty of his class from Camden High School on June 21, 2019. Immediately after graduation, we left for Bowling Green’s orientation on the 22nd and he officially started college two days later on the 24th.

He originally planned to redshirt since he missed his high school track season and felt he may not be in the best shape, however when practice started, JaJuan was fifth on the depth chart. With each practice, he was getting better and better and eventually won the starting cornerback position. In the third game of his season, JaJuan hurt his shoulder against Kansas State to the point when he came home for a quick visit, he wanted to see his orthopedic doctor.

Upon examining JaJuan’s shoulder and absent of an MRI, the doctor thought it was a torn labral, which is the cartilage holding the shoulder in the socket. When he went back to Bowling Green, he was given a cortisone shot and was scheduled to play in the next game.

The trainer also thought JaJuan had a tear in his labral, so we questioned why they were still playing him. Just like in high school, JaJuan kept playing through his injuries and pain, and we were told he would have an MRI toward the end of the season. He played his remaining games in severe pain and his depression rose to the surface again.

He felt like no one cared about his injuries or depression, and his performance in his classes suffered. He had his MRI on November 25th and still played in the final game of the year. A week later we learned JaJuan had been scheduled for surgery, which we protested due to wanting a second opinion, and our concerns about the logistics of having the surgery so close to the end of the semester and upcoming holidays.

A couple of weeks later when JaJuan returned home after the semester, we were notified Bowling Green was releasing him from his scholarship. Stunned, we scheduled him for surgery in early January and also enrolled him in Camden County College. The surgery should have taken two hours but lasted over three and a half hours.

The doctor said the damage was close to being the worse he ever saw. This was the most severe injury JaJuan had ever faced and the longest rehabilitation period – eight months! Some days he was so discouraged, and it was hard to watch JaJuan struggle under the pressure.

It took a lot of prayers plus support from us, family, friends, church members, his doctors, and high school coaches. Even though he doubted at times whether he would play again, the doctors assured us he would, and we believed he would too. After all, the Lord had given him the miracle to play the game as a child, why would He take it away now?

JaJuan also resumed his appointments with the psychologist after the surgery as he was dealing with so much – being released from his scholarship, recovering from surgery, facing the possibility of never playing football at the same level again, and whether he would be recruitable.

His medication didn’t seem to help, but music did. Marvin Sapp’s songs “He Has His Hands On Me” and “Never Would Have Made It” helped to calm his spirit. One day after a difficult session with the psychologist, I put on Marvin Sapp for the drive home. Later I received a text saying “Thank you mom. I listened to “He Has His Hands On Me” and it’s helping me to get through this day.” That really touched my heart and I felt relieved his day was turning around for him.

JaJuan worked hard in rehab and college, but the recruiting process was not going too well. Once he was cleared to do football drills, JaJuan asked me to record him. He made a highlight film, posted it on social media, and suddenly the colleges were interested again.  

On the 2021 spring National Signing Day, JaJuan signed his letter of intent with North Carolina Central University (NCCU) on a full football scholarship, but more hurdles were ahead of him. Because of the Chiari Malformation diagnosis, NCCU required an MRI and clearance by the team doctor, along with a signed waiver from us stating they would not be held liable for anything happening to JaJuan on the football field relating to his condition.

JaJuan missed the entire training camp and two weeks of practice before being cleared. He required a special helmet, but none were available at the time, so he still couldn’t practice. Two weeks before the first game, he finally received the proper equipment.

For the season opener in Atlanta against Alcorn State, GA, JaJuan graced the field on special teams (and not in his regular cornerback position). He was moved to cornerback for the next game and every game for the rest of that season. The team finished second in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) after losing to South Carolina State by three points. JaJuan finished the season ranked fifth on the team with 59 tackles (43 solo), a forced fumble, 2 blocked kicks, 3 hits for a loss, and 3 pass breakups. And his GPA was 3.0 that semester as well.

JaJuan started this season with NCCU as starting cornerback and is on track to graduate in May 2023 with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies/Social Work. He is mentally and spiritually healthy and my husband and I send prayers or encouraging quotes or scriptures to him daily. When he has free time on Sundays, he attends church and calls me to discuss the sermon.

We are so proud of the determination, perseverance, and faith JaJuan has shown throughout his extensive challenges and difficulties. Our story is an encouragement to never quit or give up, no matter how tough things may seem now. We can find strength in the Word of God to encourage ourselves when obstacles try to get in the way. We’ve taught our children to always look for the positive, even in the most negative situation. Because God is always there with us.  

Prayer for Moms:

Dear Heavenly Father,

For every mom who might be going through something similar to my story, give them wisdom on seeking the right doctors. Give them strength and comfort that everything will work out fine and to just keep faith in YOU. For the Word of God says, “You will never leave or forsake us.”

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

~Shemeika Hudson  

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Want to hear more of Shemeika’s story? Watch her Moms Night In Conversation on YouTube

Or watch on Facebook here.

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