The former Steeler claims his family support was the most important part of the process.

By: KDKA-TV’s Bob Pompeani

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was a December night in Cincinnati.

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It was an innocent-looking hit, but you knew something was wrong immediately.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier had damaged his spinal cord and needed immediate spinal stabilization surgery following a tackle as the Steelers battled the Bengals on Monday Night Football on Dec. 4, 2017.

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“This takes a lot…this is almost trying to learn how to walk again,” Shazier said in an exclusive KDKA interview with sports director Bob Pompeani. “People that were close to me, talked to my family and told them, ‘Hey, I don’t think Ryan might never walk again, I don’t think Ryan ever be the same person.’ That could really tear a lot of people down.”

It was a long and grueling process with no guarantees, but Shazier was determined to overcome the injury. The former Steeler claims his family’s support was the most important part of the process.

“They meant everything…the caregivers…they’re going through this injury with you, and you are not alone. When somebody gets hurt with a spinal cord injury, it’s not just that person that’s dealing with it. … It’s their whole family,” Shazier said.

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The football world saw that first-hand when back in Arlington, Texas at the 2018 NFL Draft. After months of rehab, Ryan and his wife Michelle walked across the stage to announce the Steelers’ first-round pick.

“That meant everything. It allowed people to see I was doing better. I want people to know, hey, I have this spinal cord injury, but this isn’t the end. There’s more to come and I want people to see that with the right amount of rehab and the right amount of work and support, it’s possible to overcome and have an independent and meaningful lifestyle,” Shazier said.

Shazier said having the Steelers on his side through the process was also a major factor in his success.

“That has uplifted me so much because it really showed they supported me. They supported my future and they supported my family, and the City of Pittsburgh also really supported us and that’s the main reason for the foundation because of all the support I was given.”

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The retired linebacker recently started The Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation. He wants people who suffer what he suffered to know that you can still live a fulfilling life.

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“Going through the whole process, I saw how big of a struggle it is. Just talking to others who have gone through spinal cord rehabilitation and seeing others go through it as I was going through it at the same time, I just thought it would be amazing to give people the same opportunities that I had and just to give them some type of independence and a meaningful lifestyle.”